Stephen Hartke


MEANWHILE (2007) Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays for Flute (doubling Piccolo and Alto Flute), Clarinet (doubling Bass Clarinet), Viola, Cello, Percussion, and Piano Commissioned for eighth blackbird by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University Winner 2013 GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Classical Competition Duration: 18 Minutes Meanwhile was composed on a commission from eighth blackbird and the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. It is one of several works of mine that has grown from a long-standing fascination I have had for various forms of Asian court and theater music, and from a fantasy in which I imagine myself the master of my own fictional non-Western musical tradition. In preparing to write this piece, I studied video clips of quite a number of puppet theater forms, ranging from the elegant and elaborate, nearly-life-sized puppets of Japanese Bunraku, to Vietnamese water puppets, both Indonesian and Turkish shadow puppets, and to classic Burmese court theater that mixes marionettes with dancers who look and act like marionettes. All of these theatrical forms have their own distinct musical styles and structures, and I confess to being especially fascinated by the stark vividness of their instrumental coloration and the often unexpected structural quirks that they have evolved as these traditions have taken shape over the centuries and become stylized.   This piece, then, is a set of incidental pieces to no puppet plays in particular, but one in which the imaginary scenes have given rise to an idiosyncratic sequence in which the sound of the ensemble has been reinvented along lines that clearly have roots in these diverse Asian models. The piano, for instance, is prepared for much of the piece with large soft mutes used to transform the color of the middle register into something that rather resembles the Vietnamese hammer dulcimer. The viola is tuned a half-step lower in order both to change its timbre and to open the way for a new set of natural harmonics to interact sometimes even microtonally with those of the cello. The percussion array includes 18 wood sounds, from very high Japanese Kabuki blocks to lower range slit drums, plus 4 cowbells, 2 small cymbals, and a set of bongos. These are set up in keyboard fashion so that the player can play them all as a single instrument. Finally, there is a set of Flexatones, which are rather like small musical saws. Three of these are held together with a wooden clamp and are played by the pianist with a mallet, their pitch being altered by pressing down on their metal flanges. The tone is rather like that of small Javanese gongs, and so I have given this new instrument the name of Flexatone Gamelan. Meanwhile is played as a single movement, with 6 distinct sections: Procession, which features the Flexatone Gamelan; Fanfares, with the Piccolo and Bass Clarinet linked together much as a puppeteer and his marionette; Narrative, in which the Bass Clarinet recites the 'story' of the scene in an extravagant and flamboyant solo reminiscent of the reciter in Japanese Bunraku; Spikefiddlers, which requires a playing technique for the viola and later the cello that stems from Central Asian classical music; Cradle-songs, the outer parts of which feature natural harmonics in the viola and cello combined with bell- like 9th-partial harmonics from the piano; and Celebration, where, in the coda, the Flutist and Clarinetist take up Flexatones to play the closing melody.
Recording: eighth blackbird Cedille Records 90000 133
YouTube Video: eighth blackbird
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