Quintet for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, alto saxophone, and piano (2009)
i Forward stepped Arnaldos bold
iii Scherzo and Trio (after Oldenburg)
iv Afterglow, Afterburn
Quintet for oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, bassoon, and piano was written in 2009 at the request of the
Aria Reed Trio (Anna Hendrickson, oboe, Julianne Kirk, clarinet, and Carol Lowe, bassoon), along with
saxophonist Christopher Creviston and pianist Kathryn Koscho. Although the movements all have
programmatic or evocative titles, only the third movement directly resulted from an external, extramusical
source. The other titles were added during or after the composition of their movements.
"Forward stepped Arnaldos bold" is a line from "The Singing Mariner", a Spanish ballad translated by
George Borrow. The verse of the poem from which it is drawn reads:
Forward stepped Arnaldos bold,
Thus he spake, as I am told:
"Teach me, sailor, I entreat,
Yonder song that sounds so sweet."
The poem tells of Count Arnaldos, who while walking on the beach comes across a ship whose helmsman's
song calms the sea and attracts even the fish to listen. The mariner refuses to teach Arnaldos the song, saying
"Never will I teachthe strain/But to him who ploughs the main."
James Joyce's poem "Nightpiece" from Pomes Penyeach includes the lines:
Ghostfires from heaven's far verges faint illume,
Arches on soaring arches,
Night's sindark nave.
My masters thesis was a setting of this complete poem for voice and orchestra. As I was writing the second movement
of the Quintet, it occurred to me that the opening (and recurring) chord succession closely resembled the opening
of that old orchestral song. The title and epigraph seemed to fit closely enough with the music I'd written here.
A 2009 exhibition of Claes Oldenburg's work at the Whitney Museum in Manhattan included an installation called
"The Music Room", which was dominated by "Leaning Clarinet", a twelve-foot tall, bright blue sculpture of a curved
clarinet with keys seeming almost to fly off its body. In the same exhibit were "Soft Saxophone", in which a
stuffed-vinyl alto saxophone lies in its case, somehow evoking the idea that it is sleeping, as well as "Falling Notes",
which shows a page of a score with the notes frozen in the air as they literally have fallen off
the page. These three pieces suggested the scherzo, the trio, and the brief coda of the Quintet; here, as in the
exhibition, the clarinet dominates.
The final movement, "Afterglow, Afterburn" begins reflectively, but suddenly finds new momentum, as
though the afterburners have kicked in to generate one last burst of energy from the fumes of the previous