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Joseph Schwantner: "Sparrows"

June 9, 2010

Joseph Schwantner's Sparrows will appear on our first program of the year in September.

 

Joseph Schwantner, Sparrows

University of Delaware New Music Delaware Ensemble

Wesley J. Broadnax, conductor; Shari Feldman, soprano

 

Below are program notes from the CD insert of American Classics: Joseph Schwantner.

 

Sparrows, was written in 1979 for the Twentieth Century Consort. The text consists of fifteen haiku by the eighteenth-century Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. Instead of reproducing the aesthetic of the haiku, with its sharply outlined images, Schwantner's music absorbs the meaning and character of these naturalistic and universalism images and expresses them in a comprehensively lyrical musical form. He thus creates a series of what might be called dream-stages. These stages reach from exuberant harmonies, harsh dissonance, and effusiveness finally to gentle hope. Schwantner draws freely from fully varied stylistic precursors to represent the poetic imagery. Reminiscences of Renaissance dances and baroque polyphony can be heard.

 

By the process of reconciling contrasting musical styles with the continuity of the work, Schwantner successfully makes these styles his. The wide range of atmospheres and colours is created by a setting whose acoustical possibilities are used in a most profound and creative way. The voice is supported by three instrumental groups, woodwind, strings (tuned a semitone lower, to add a particular fullness to the whole ensemble), and a combination of piano, harp and percussion. The sound of the percussion is strengthened by the strings, which strike the crotales or antique cymbals with their bows, evoking an otherworldly sound to accompany The River of Heaven. The instrumentalists must also sing at various key points in the whole work. This chorus element accompanies the references to sparrows at the beginning and end of the text. On the first occasion this exotic effect produces a mysterious atmosphere of threatening danger, while at the end this effect is particularly intimate, touching and even soothing.

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