Stephen Hartke

THE HORSE WITH THE LAVENDER EYE (1997) Episodes for Violin, Clarinet and Piano Commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Duration: 16 Minutes I. Music of the Left II. The Servant of Two Masters III. Waltzing at the Abyss IV. Cancel My Rumba Lesson I've always been fascinated by non-sequiturs, and the way that sense can suddenly appear out of nonsense. I also find imagery derived from words and pictures to be a great stimulus to my musical thinking, even if the relationships between the images I seize upon are not necessarily obvious or logical. The sources for the titles of this trio are quite disparate, ranging from Carlo Goldoni to Japanese court music to the cartoonist R. Crumb, as well as 19th century Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis and Looney Tunes. A bewildering array of references, to be sure, but one that somehow whets my musical appetite. Here are examples of just how: the ancient Japanese court, borrowing from the Chinese, was divided into left and right sides with ministries and music specific to each. The image of this official Music of the Left, suggested, first, the rather ceremonial character of my trio's first movement, and also its technical quirk: all three instruments are to be played by the left hand alone. In the second movement, the title of Carlo Goldoni's play, The Servant of Two Masters, seemed to me an apt description of the performance dynamic involved in this particular combination of instruments, where the piano, in somewhat of a frenzy, serves alternately as the accompaniment to the clarinet while the violin clamors for attention, and vice versa. The third movement was suggested by a very short chapter in Machado de Assis' novel Dom Casmurro wherein the narrator, observing that his story seems to be waltzing at the abyss of final catastrophe, seeks to reassure his reader (falsely, as it turns out) by saying: "Don't worry, dear, I'll wheel about." For the finale, I had in mind a panel from one of R. Crumb's underground comics of the late 60s showing a character dashing about in an apocalyptic frenzy, shouting, among other things, "Cancel my rumba lesson!" The connective thread of all these images began to dawn on me only in the midst of composing the work: all the movements have to do in one way or another with a sense of being off-balance -- playing music with only one side of the body; being caught between insistent and conflicting demands; dancing dangerously close to a precipice, and only narrowly avoiding tumbling in; and, finally, not really being able to dance the rumba at all. Nonetheless, in the very end (the rumba lesson having been canceled, I suppose), a sense of calm and equilibrium comes to prevail.
Recording: Xak Bjerken, Richard Faria, and Ellen Jewett Chandos 10513
The Horse with the Lavender Eye
David Shifrin, Daniel Phillips, and Anne-Marie McDermott Delos DE 3423
YouTube: The Horse with the Lavender Eye Movements 1, 2, 3, & 4 Ellen Jewett, Richard Faria, & Xak Bjerken
Kevin Schempf, Stephen Miahky, and Laura Melton AMP Recordings AMPREC 020