It’s been my great pleasure to work on Morphic Resonance with my good friends and colleagues Ben Sung, Jihye Chang-Sung, Michael and Meme Tunnell, Matthew Nelson, Greg Byrne, Sidney King, Evelyn Loehrlein, and David Dzubay. I’m grateful to them for their beautiful music making and to the University of Louisville School of Music and the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation for support that made Morphic Resonance possible.
Morphic Resonance takes its name from a divisive theory proposed in 1981 by British biologist Rupert Sheldrake to explain intergenerational transference of acquired attributes and other mysteries of biology, such as how a developing cell “knows” whether to become bone or nerve, for example. The theory’s core concept of hidden “fields” that transmit information through time and space holds a special attraction for me. To me, music seems to create its own hidden fields of motion, meaning, and emotion. How can sound through time transform us so deeply? Such a beautiful mystery.
– Steve Rouse
About the Music
Sonata for Violin and Piano was composed for Ben Sung and Jihye Chang-Sung. It's been my tremendous professional pleasure for many years to work with these remarkable performers.
The unimaginative title of sonata reflects several things about the work. First, the music is not especially programmatic or intended to evoke the extra-musical, with one exception: the second movement is subtitled "The Bell," which, though not conveying any specific meaning, is suggestive and seems to capture the tolling essence of this music. Second, the work is in four movements and follows a scheme similar to many 18th and 19th century sonatas: fast, slow, moderate, and fast. Finally, the movements are interconnected through musical materials and long-range pitch connections.
Form Fades is scored for the modern mixed sextet – flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, and piano – and includes five movements of roughly equal duration. The movement titles – Ritual Fills, Pulse Frees, Memory Feels, Petal Floats, and Hammer Falls – were chosen for their alliterative aspects, their evocative nature, and their suggestions about the quality of the music. With only a few small solos here and there, Form Fades is primarily ensemble music.
Form Fades was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C., a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Christoph Eschenbach, Music Director, in honor of the 2011 American Residency Program in Kentucky.
Nevolution was composed for modern corno da caccia and piano, although is may be performed on any soprano brass instrument in B-flat, including trumpet, cornet, and flügelhorn. The natural corno da caccia was a 17th century instrument and early precursor of the French horn. Modern reproductions are sometimes called circular flügelhorn in B-flat, piccolo-horn, or trumpet-horn. Its sound is a haunting mix of horn and flügelhorn.
Nevolution is a three-movement work composed for Michael and Meme Tunnell. When Mike died in 2014, it was heartbreaking for so many of his friends. I have included this recording, one of his last, as a final thank you to my good friend and collaborator, who inspired so much new music.
Although nevolution is not a recognized word (or wasn’t in 2010 when the work was composed), it suggests several words and ideas: revolution, evolution, and devolution, among others. The movement titles are suggestive of images or ideas that convey something of the character of the music, but they also reflect some recent ideas and theories in science.
In the first movement, Echo Migration, a fast pulse (or beat) in the piano regularly shifts its placement, something akin to an Escher painting (Fish and Birds, for example). The movement is also something of a gentle parody of traditional fanfare music.
Starquiet suggests a broad, slowly turning panorama, such as a sky view, with the piano suggesting points of light, perhaps. Over this gently twinkling background, the corno sings its “song without words.”
Morphic Resonance suggests natural resonance or memory. Morphic resonance is a divisive theory proposed in 1981 by biologist Rupert Sheldrake to make sense of a wide range of unexplained (or poorly explained) natural biological phenomena, such as the genetic transfer of acquired attributes or the process of cell differentiation in developing embryos. The theory’s core concept is that of hidden “fields” that transmit information through time and space.
In this movement, the music of the corno is derived from the overtone series, which should be performed to allow the natural out-of-tune-ness of the series to be heard. Normally, the notes of the overtone series are not allowed to be in their “natural” state. Usually, they are corrected by choosing alternate fingerings or by slightly modifying the pitch otherwise.
Ten Little Things – Large, multi-movement percussion setups have long been popular, and it seems the bigger, the better. While I appreciate the variety and range of resources at the composer's disposal, I often tire of hearing "all of the instruments all of the time."
In part as a response to these giant percussion setups, but in part as a personal challenge, I thought it might be interesting to create a multi-movement work in which each roughly equal movement uses only one percussion instrument, including some less loved and more limited instruments.
Ten Little Things was composed for two of my university colleagues, clarinetist Matthew Nelson and percussionist Greg Byrne. The movement titles and corresponding percussion instruments are listed below; all of the movements include clarinet.
1. The Sight - concert bass drum
2. The Nature - chimes (tubular bells)
3. The Charm - four cowbells
4. The Wall - vibraphone (mostly bowed)
5. The Wheel - snare drum with wire brushes
6. The Sense - tambourine
7. The Heaven - crotales (two octaves)
8. The Ball – two congas
9. The Cloud – baritone musical saw or low flexatone
10. The Fantasy - vibraphone (mallets)
King Tango is not a traditional tango, such as might be used to accompany dance, but is instead an abstract impression of the spirit or essence of the tango. Listeners who have a passing familiarity with the tango as dance music will recognize subtle fragments of rhythms and dramatic impulses.
King Tango opens with the solo bass issuing to its flute partner a bold invitation or call to dance. As the two begin to dance, they take passionate, virtuosic liberties with tradition by stretching, pulling, and floating beyond the bounds of expectations, yet they always return to a subtle essence of the tango. Like the tango dance, the work embraces the sudden, contrasting gesture within larger impulses. In watching virtuoso dancers of tango, I sense an improvisatory playfulness and unpredictability, the essence of which I tried to capture in King Tango. Much like traditional dancers frequently do, our musical dancers ultimately conclude with sensuous, yet elegant bows to one another. King Tango was composed for Sidney King, Professor of Double Bass at the University of Louisville and former Assistant Principal Bassist of the Louisville Orchestra.
(All notes by Steve Rouse)
I want to thank my family, the performers, and my colleagues. Morphic Resonance is funded, in part, by support from New Music Initiative funds from the University of Louisville School of Music and by a Research Initiation Grant from the University of Louisville’s Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation.
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