Augusta Read Thomas, Composer

Credences of Summer (2005)

For orchestra
Premiered by the San Diego Symphony, Jahja Ling conducting, on 20 May 2005
Duration: 16 minutes

Click to hear an excerpt from this work

Movement I
Pure Rhetoric of a Language Without Words

Movement II
A Mountain Luminous Halfway in Bloom

Movement III
Trace the Gold Sun About the Whitened Sky

Program Note by the Composer

Augusta Read Thomas

My favorite moment in any piece of music is that of maximum risk and striving. Whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, or eccentric — the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul!  All art that I cherish has elements of order, mystery, love, recklessness, and desperation. For me, music must be alive and jump off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake.  I think of my music as nuanced lyricism under pressure.

This artistic credo leads me to examine small musical objects (a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color) and explore them from many perspectives. These different perspectives reveal new musical potentials thus developing the musical discourse. In this manner, Credences of Summer takes on an organic, circular, self-referential character, which, at the same time, has a forward progression. The transformative nature of my musical progressions — through temporal, harmonic, textural, registral, and timbral spaces — attempt to imbue my pieces with an irrepressible sense of color, motion and wonder.  I am madly in love with music and I want that energy to come across in all my music.

Luciano Berio, one of my heroes, used the phrase "remembering the future" to describe his musical philosophy. He made his name as an avant-gardist and he remained a Modernist throughout his career, but he also saw himself as reinventing the past.

TS Eliot in his poem, Burnt Norton, wrote

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

Berio's process of reexamining the past through the present has influenced me.  Although I do not quote other composer's music in my music and do not use folk songs in my compositions, nor other things of this kind, which were totally natural to Mr. Berio, I do believe in searching and studying deeply the repertoire (by this I mean, very old and very new music of all kinds and everything in between) and as a result, music itself is definitely the most vital and sobering influence on my music. Music of many periods and by different composers has fascinated and nurtured me since I was a child.  I love deeply the music of J.S. Bach for its precision, amazing invention, it's elegance and the nobility and grandeur of its emotional spectrum.  Bach sounds utterly modern to me, even 300 years after it was composed.  The music of a myriad of other composers and Jazz improvisers keeps me focused and humble at the same time as they inspire me with confidence to think creatively.

My listening is varied stylistically and also very close and granular such that I hear the beautiful specificity of each composition, with all its exclusive shadings and gradations.  Music is multifaceted and nuanced in infinite measure so I am not interested in answering: "what is the "category or style of that music" I refuse, for instance, to make a nice neat box in my mind or ear to safely answer that question with a pat: "it is 'XYZ-ism', and that is an 'XYZ-ist' composer." 

Excellent composers, like Mr. Berio, in their best compositions, are probing for something deeply personal — each composer on an individualistic search, each doing research, and each searching into the future.

Credences of Summer is the tile of a poem by Wallace Stevens and the movement titles are fragments of this great poem.

Two other works of mine make reference to poems of Wallace Stevens, the two others being: Words of the Sea for orchestra and Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour for Mezzo, Counter Tenor and small orchestra.

Movement I
Pure Rhetoric of a Language Without Words
Three percussionists play only bowed vibraphones, with the pedal down the entire time.  They start on low notes and move up to the top of their instruments and then back down the range, like an arch, like the arc of the sun each day.  They generate a delicate, hushed, fragile, sensuous blanket of sound, in which the harmonies are very carefully honed.  Against this expression a series of elegant, graceful, and interior solos emerge and submerge.

Movement II
A Mountain Luminous Halfway in Bloom
Intense, bold, rhythmic, and relentless, yet always very clean and clear to follow this movement is often in 10/8 meter which is broken up as 3 +2 + 2 + 3, giving the feeling of walking with a limp, so that the punch and rush of the meter makes the music very asymmetrical and driving. I was certainly remembering Stravinsky here.

Movement III
Trace the Gold Sun About the Whitened Sky
This movement is played attacca, right after movement two.  If we could trace the gold sun about the whitened sky, I imagine it would be full of brilliance, majesty and fanfare.  Glow (echo), color, playfulness, balance, and vivid energy characterize this movement.  There is a kind of bandwidth compression in this movement, which is electrified by shimmering and bright orchestrations.

Commissioned by and dedicated with admiration and gratitude to The San Diego Symphony and Jahja Ling, Music Director

To obtain examination or performance material for any of Augusta Read Thomas's works, please contact G. Schirmer Inc..

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