Of what use is writing a blog about contemporary music if I cannot mention my own music? The piece this time was written by me, so the reader may choose an appropriate dose of salt. I compose under the name “Robert G. Patterson” (including the middle initial) primarily to distinguish myself from another composer with almost the identical name. The other Robert Paterson (note the single “t”) is prolific and successful, so confusion would be understandable.
“Scenes from Beyond Memory” is a trio in seven movements for horn, violin, and piano, totaling about twenty minutes. Each movement is based on a poem from “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”—a group of one hundred Japanese poems collected around the year 1200. I selected seven that relate to animals or plants. The roadmap is as follows.
- The Solitary Stag: for all three players. The horn plays a low melody that lies within the range of the voice of the stag. The other two instruments provide a pulsing accompaniment that perhaps evokes a yellow- and red-dappled forest of ginkos and maples in autumn.
- Departing Seabirds: a turbulent scramble for solo piano in which dueling plovers dart through the spume.
- The Counterfeit Cockcrow: a somewhat sarcastic duet for violin with horn accompaniment.
- The Pining Grove: for the full trio, this movement is closest in spirit to the Horn Trio by Brahms.
- Cuckoo at Dawn: a movement for solo horn in which stopped, open, and half-valve timbres play character-roles described in the poem.
- The Lone Cricket: an interlude in which the violin is a cricket, the piano the voice of loneliness, and the horn punctuates with three notes at the end.
- Arc O’er the River of Heaven: the piano peals bell-chords against a shimmering line played by the horn and violin in unison. The poem refers to flights of magpies in the predawn sky. Their white bellies flashing in the first rays of sunlight give them the aspect of a bridge over the Milky Way.
One feature that emerged in the writing of the piece is that it contains two embedded quotes from Ein Heldenleben: one for the violin and one for the horn. A particular moment of the horn part I imagined resembled an iconic passage so much that I decided to embrace it as a kind of Easter egg. I then found a suitable spot to place another iconic quote from Heldenleben’s solo violin part.
The horn part covers all registers of the horn, from written G2 to C6. The stopped passage work in the last movement may require focused preparation, but otherwise the part is not particularly difficult beyond counting the rhythms. A perhaps unusual feature is the lyrical solo in the first movement that lies largely between C3 and C4.