“Four Poets” by Roger Bourland to be premiered by the Ives Quartet (5/2006)

March 6, 2006

poundbyavedon.jpg schiller_profile.jpg

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From top left to bottom right, Pound, Schiller, Merrill, and Williams

The Ives Quartet (formerly known as The Stanford Quartet) will premiere my first string quartet, “Four Poets” in their concert series around the bay area in May 2006.

I felt good about waiting until I’m my age (53) to be writing this piece. It is a daunting undertaking as I continually felt myself standing in the shadows of giants in terms of string quartet literature. My own musical opinions of four poets could only be an original offering that gets out of their light, and into another.

Ives String: Quartet No.1
Roger Bourland: FOUR POETS
(World Premiere)
Mendelssohn: String Quartet, Op. 12

Thu – May 11, 2006 – 8pm
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, CA

Fri – May 12, 2006 – 8pm
Le Petit Trianon Theatre, San Jose, CA

I was asked to write program notes for the concert. I reprint them here.


(program notes by Roger Bourland)

Of late I have found musical portraits stimulating to my compositional flow. I have a piano quartet called “Four Painters” and collections of songs in sets of four called “Four Endsongs” and “Four ApartSongs” and “Four XmasSongs”. In the early eighties I had a propensity to write pieces in three movements. In the late 70s I wrote pieces in seven movements. (I’m not sure what it all means, but it’s true.)

The poets I’ve chosen are poets I seem to be incapable of setting as songs. Their poems are just fine as they are and don’t need music to amplify them.

1. I love the obsessive mad genius of Ezra Pound. Pound, like Arnold Schoenberg, was aware of his “place” in the history/tradition of poetry. Many times the literary references in his poetry are beyond mortal comprehension — at least this mortal. Nonetheless, I love the mad proclamation in his work. Pound proclaimed that artists are the antennae of society. I like to this so.

2. Friederich Schiller was the poet who supplied Beethoven with “alle menschen werden brüdern” in his 9th Symphony. Again, I think it’s the Dionysian proclamation in Schiller that I find so musically stimulating.

3. James Merrill was a personal friend, as well of one my favorite poets. My problem in trying to make songs out of his poems, is that when I read his poetry, I hear him reading them. And that’s enough. I don’t feel compelled to sing it, or cause it to be sung. But the magical world he opens up in his poetry is one I would love to explore musically. So I did in this movement. A work in the tradition of Philip Glass, but mine has better tunes than his ever has. It’s a long magical movement I encourage you to close your eyes and go where it takes you. It is the druggiest of the movements. I won’t jab you if you fall asleep.

4. William Carlos Williams is a poet many of us know and love. His work emanates the joy of being alive in a very down to earth way. Again, his poetry speaks to me as music, but not as song. His overall “up” nature seemed a good way to cap off this set of portraits.

5. An “encore” movement was written at the request of my father’s sister, Ardis Bourland who was also a co-commissioner. Ardis played bass as well as banjo for many years, so the addition of these two instruments seems a perfect coda to the evening.

The work is dedicated to the Ives Quartet and Ardis Bourland.

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