Alms for Soprano and Orchestra
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Alms is a song cycle for soprano and orchestra in four movements, using five poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay as text. The poems are Alms, Afternoon On A Hill, Bluebeard, First Fig, and Second Fig. Due to the brevity of First Fig and Second Fig, I set these poems as one movement. The instrumentation is 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, 4 percussion (including timpani), harp, piano, and strings. I have been drawn to the poetry of Millay for many years, and have set a few of her poems in the past. While Millay was not a progressive in terms of poetic structure or meter, her subject matter was groundbreaking, and her works contain an alluring balance between modernism and tradition. This balance runs somewhat in parallel to my music, which maintains some semblance of tonal structure, while also venturing into more contemporary techniques. A product of the Jazz Age, I believe that some of Millay's artistic perspective has a home in my music, which relies on jazz harmony and shows great appreciation of early twentieth-century popular and art music. The roots of this particular piece come from a desire to create a large orchestral work which has an underpinning of jazz harmony, but without most of the rhythmic or cultural associations that are attached to composing "jazz". I employ ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths, so typical of jazz, but not in terms of chord progressions moving by fifths or resolving with a conventional sense of voice leading. Much of the harmony is voiced without regard for the traditional hierarchy of tonal music, despite the fact that the chords and progressions themselves contain almost exclusively "tonal sounding" chords. The purpose of composing this way is to create textures which are both unpredictable and contemporary, yet approachable by a listener who has little exposure to present-day art music. This is how I interpret the work of Millay - a modern artistic endeavor which still has roots in tradition.