Songs for a Prelude (2001)
in memoriam 11 September 2001
for violin, clarinet, and piano
I. tympanum pride
II. costumes of peace
III. rest to arms
IV. drum-taps led
Commissioned by the Verdehr Trio, Songs for a Prelude is the composer’s response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The underlying musical gestures are all generated from the numbers 1, 9 and 11, and are manifest in pitch classes, rhythms and note durations, and in small and large scale phrases.
The opening gesture demonstrates this by using the pitch classes 1 (C#), 9 (A), and 11 (B). Its counter gesture is an inversion and slight compression of the intervals found in the first gesture. The sustained notes of these gestures are held for lengths of 9 eighth-notes, 11 eighth-notes and 1 eighth-note. At the same time, this numerology does not interfere with or dictate the dramatic flow of the work. Rather, it is used to enhance the sense of drama and climax that leads to the cathartic release at the end of the final movement.
The title of the work and its four movements comes the opening poem in Walt Whitman’s book Drum-Taps, entitled First O Songs for a Prelude. Written about Whitman’s experiences as a hospital volunteer during the civil war, the first stanza provides a remarkable and timely description of New York, its strength and resilience and the fundamental American spirit.
First O songs for a prelude,
Lightly strike on the stretch’d tympanum pride and joy in my city,
How she led the rest to arms, how she gave the cue,
How at once with lithe limbs unwaiting a moment she sprang,
(O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!
O strongest you in the hour of danger, in crisis! O truer than steel!)
How you sprang – how you threw off the costumes of peace with indifferent hand,
How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and fife were heard in the stead,
How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our prelude, songs of soldiers,)
How Manhattan drum-taps led.