Heading: for bass clarinet and string quartet
Instrumentation: bass clarinet, 2 violins, viola, and cello
Program Note: When the air gets that snap of cold, accompanied by the smell of burning leaves, and the days are shortening, and the frisson of decay is met with glorious fall colors, a happy/sad feeling emerges, which calls to mind the inevitable changing of seasons, a cyclical melancholy, but a sharpness too—it is not all loss, because we might just as soon enjoy the comfort and expectation of bringing out that favorite jacket worn only in autumn, and after winter, the thaw of spring follows. Can such feelings be captured in music? If there ever were an instrument that could convey such sentiments, it is the bass clarinet, with its rich, yearning timbre, which can at all at once be quite frightening and aggressive. Combining this instrument with string quartet is an effective mixture of sounds, an ideal orchestrational palette for a composer, so when Bruce Belton contacted me to write such a quintet, I was enthusiastic. I thank him and the Friction Quartet for bringing this piece into the world.
My music tends to be driven by rhythm; I try to discover the forward impulse inherent in a musical idea. In October, I take a simple arpeggio, and treat it cellularly, meaning that I start with only a fraction of the arpeggio, and in each repetition, restore more and more notes, so that the end of eight repetitions, we hear the entire complement. This becomes the basis of a structure that can easily be heard. Another feature I use is augmentation. An original figure presented twice as long has the characteristic of a contrasting mood—more expressive or languid—almost as if it were new material, but in fact it isn’t new at all, it contains all the same notes, but stretched out twice as long. “Same but different” is a mantra I return to in all my work, to build cohesion in a composition. Putting aside technical strategies of construction, ultimately it is the mood of our tenth month that I try to express, in a single movement, culminating in a dramatic restatement of the theme at the very end.