Click here to view an interview between Scott Brickman and Suzanne Gilchrest from 8 Strings & a Whistle.
My French Suite (2012-13) was written for the ensemble Eight Strings and a Whistle. Though based in NYC, they frequently perform in Northern Maine, which is one of the few Franco-American areas in the US. Therefore, I thought it appropriate to title my first piece written specifically for them, “French Suite”.
The input of Eight Strings and a Whistle was integral to the evolution of this piece. I had the fortunate experience to hear them read a first draft of the work during the summer of 2012. I took the critiques and suggestions they offered, and I am confident that my piece has benefitted from incorporating the insights of my colleagues.
Each of the first three movements features one of the instruments as an ensemble leader, with the other two in an accompanying role. The first movement features the flute. It’s a sonata form structure. The second movement features the viola, with intermittent duets between the viola and ‘cello. It is a Romanza in ternary form. The third movement features the ‘cello, and is influenced by rock and roll, specifically the Clash’s “London Calling”, which you can hear references to in the ascending line of the ‘cello. The finale treats the trio as equal members and refers to a folk dance.
The first movement is in 3/4 time (though it is often reinterpreted as 6/8), and the meter of each subsequent movement increases by one eighth. The pitch material of all of the movements is based on 12 tone rows whose first six pitches are a subset of the octatonic scale.
Like Bach the internationalist, who also composed “French Suites”, there was a conscious effort to draw influences from a variety of musical sources.
Wind Power (2011) was written for DuoSolo and premiered on their March 20, 2012 recital at UMFK. The piece is sectional, and the form is modeled after Schoenberg’s KammerSymphonie. That form, uses a Sonata Form to frame the other three (slow-dance-finale) sections of a four-movement work within a single movement. It begins with a piano flourish followed by a flute motto, after which a brief canonic section follows. A slow passage then leads again to the disjunct canonical music, after which, a dancelike section follows. After the dancelike section there is chromatic finale music which leads back to a final statement of the opening flourish and the flute motto.
My Divertimento (2012) was conceived as a concert piece that would capitalize on the wide range of the ‘cello. Though it uses rather esoteric 12-tone procedures, I believe that the musical surface that is realized is rather straightforward.
The first movement reminds me of Shostakovich’s ‘Cello Sonata. Melodically it features many oscillating intervallic patterns. The harmonies, though atonal, are consonance based.
The Intermezzo I hope shows what I have learned from Haydn and Berg; a sense of play with tonal puns. In this movement the range of the piano is exploited and the ‘cello focuses on motives structured around anchor tones.
The Sarabande is based on the Sarabande from Bach’s third English Suite.
Perpetuo Furioso – what can I say? This movement attempts to synthesize the musical features of the previous movements. It is tangentially based on a (discarded) solo violin piece I wrote 20 years ago. The ‘cello dyads were the original impetus for this movement and I saw and felt them more than heard them
My Partita (2013) is, like the original term, a collection of pieces synonymous with a suite.
The first movement is a sonata form movement. It is fairly straightforward formally, with the possible exception of “new” thematic material introduced by the piano in the development section.
The second movement is my homage to Schoenberg’s klavierstuck op. 19 no. 2.
Movement three is a scherzo without the repeats. The piano figuration in the accompaniment in the “b” section is reminiscent of the stratified textures of Bach’s solo instrumental works.
The finale has a driven, demonic quality to it. Like the first movement, it contains episodes of motivic fragmentation and, subconsciously, alludes to the first movement with an oscillating whole step motive.
This work was inspired by hearing Eight Strings and a Whistle rehearse a work of mine, my French Suite. Hearing Ina Litera play, and myself having played the viola in my high school orchestra, inspired me to write a work acknowledging the Western European tradition I love; Bach and Schoenberg, and, acknowledging composers such as Mozart, Dvorak and Hindemith, who were also violists.
Ninety-Six Strings and Two Whistles (2014) was written for Eight Strings and a Whistle and pianist Beth Levin. The flute doubles alto flute, hence the two whistles. The piece is in 5 movements. Movements 1, 3 and 5 are short, angular and dramatic. The 2nd and 4th movements are longer, more lyrical, and meditate on a single idea. Subconsciously, I suspect that hearing Eight Strings and a Whistle play their arrangement of Schubert’s Erlkonig inspired the last movement.
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