Saturday, October 7, 2017

The San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra

Rattensturm. Angriff auf ein Sinkendes. Orchestriert. 
On Guy Fawkes' eve, the fourth of November, the SFCCO will perform an instrumental suite from my soon-to-be-written opera on the sinking of the Tegetthoff-class battleship SMS Szent István, an event which, as it happened on the maiden voyage due to a series of mishaps and foolishnesses, was an embarrassment for the Austro-Hungarian empire, already in rapid decline post Franz Josef. However, in Italy, the country that provided the torpedoes that dealt the blow, it is still commemorated as Navy Day, June 10th, the day in 2018 the opera will premiere, the 100th anniversary of the awesome event.

Five sections:

1) A few years ago, a former attendant of the Empress took me to see A Winged Victory for the Sullen, and something about the calmness of their music has infected me. So when the librettist's stage directions commanded that the music starts in a calming and smooth manner, in the first section, The Strait of Otranto, where the battle eventually takes place, I said OK I will and let the infection run its course. In the opening, we hear that the Strait of Otranto, the Otrantostrasse, is for sailors what Verdun is for the foot soldiers at the front.

2) As the ship sails, the mishaps accumulate. They have set off late, so will not arrive under cover of darkness, and the coal is damp, sending dense black smoke, signaling the enemy. Those that love war love this, The Unloved War:
I have ... killed.
I am more agile and quicker than him.
More aggressive.
I'm the first to hit.
I have the feeling for reality,
I, the poet.
I have acted.
I've killed.
Killed as the one,
Who wants to live. 
Blaise Cendrars 
3) I was improvising at the piano and came across some chords which, after some time, I realized were thinly disguised versions of chords I have used many times before, but shortly thereafter noticed a modal similarity to the chords that begin Schubert's Der Doppelgänger, and since the librettist is liberally quoting lots of pro and anti war poetry I thought why shouldn't I do some quoting, so in the section Blessed are the young men who hunger and thirst for gloryfrom Gabriele D Annuncio's beatitudinal Bergpredigt, I mixed in some of me with some of Mr. Schubert's song. My favorite Schubert musics are the dark musics, e.g. the above, Die liebe Farbe, etc, and that darkness here is featured in the contrabassoon doubling bits of the melody.

4) The librettist, Peter Wagner, said to use Ich hatt' einen Kameraden - the German equivalent of Taps - might be too heavy handed, but I arranged it anyway.

5) Which leads us attaca to How beautifully the rockets illuminate the night, a repurposing of a piano piece of mine, arranged for the small orchestra. A pulsing but slowly changing harmony, and a dropping melody in the bells. Orchestration can do many things given a piano piece as its source: in this case, providing the swell of the performer and the pedaling of the piano.

Remember, remember the 4th of November. At beautiful St Mark's Lutheran on the hill at 1111 O'Farrell, 8pm.

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