Kenneth Fuchs records chamber music for Naxos American Classics
June 11, 2012
Composer Kenneth Fuchs has recorded his fourth disc of music to be released worldwide on Naxos American Classics. The repertoire includes Falling Canons (Seven Movements for Piano), Falling Trio (for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello), and String Quartet No 5 (“American”). About the three works, Fuchs writes:
“Falling Canons was composed especially for my friend, pianist and host of NPR’s From the Top, Christopher O’Riley. The work grows out of compositional elements from Falling Man, an extended scena for baritone voice and orchestra that I composed over a two-year period in 2008–1010. The original vocal text, adapted for setting by JD McClatchy, is based on a fragment from Don DeLillo’s powerful post-9/11 novel Falling Man, published in 2007.
DeLillo’s novel about the events, aftermath and changed lives of 9/11, enthralled me. I was riveted in particular by the dramatic opening prologue, in which the novel’s protagonist stumbles out of the falling rubble of the World Trade Center. DeLillo’s unflinching description of raw terror and absolute chaos provided a standpoint from which I could begin to come to terms as a composer with the shocking and world-changing events of that fateful morning.
During the composition of Falling Man, I found that there were contrapuntal elements in the music that I could further explore and distill in the pure medium of solo piano. The original Falling Man theme is organized around a sequence of 12 different descending pitches. The compositional manipulation of the theme’s 12 pitches in the vocal-orchestral work does not strictly adhere to classic dodecaphonic procedures—the pitches and their permutations are taken up in various melodic and harmonic combinations and provide the basis for musical development and transformation over the course of a through-composed vocal aria interspersed with vocal recitatives and orchestral interludes.
The development of the compositional material in Falling Canons is much more rigorous, the goal being to explore the essence of the Falling Man theme on the keyboard within limited musical parameters. The interval of canonic imitation, temporal relationships, and the time signature of each canon are related to the sequential number of each piece. Each of the seven canons begins and ends on a unifying primary pitch. Each unifying pitch represents a degree of the C major scale. The ﬁrst canon is pitched on B, the second canon is pitched on A, the thirdon G, and so forth until all seven pitches of the scale are represented in a descending fashion. The seventh and ﬁnal canon is pitched on C.
Falling Trio was commissioned at the behest of American pianist Jeffrey Biegel. A long-time friend and Juilliard classmate, Biegel established Trio21 with violinist Kinga Augustyn and cellist Robert deMaine and asked that I compose a work for the group’s 2011–2012 inaugural season. I am grateful to Dr Robert Shiff for supporting the creation of this work.
Organized over one extended movement, Falling Trio also grows out of the Falling Man theme. As it moves forward from its ethereal opening—each of the three instruments floating down in a strict three-part canon from their highest registers—the work becomes a set of seven fantasy variations on the Falling Man theme. The introductory canon states the theme pitched on B, and the subsequent variations are based on successive ascending scalar pitches (the opposite of the seven Falling Canons for piano, in which successive canons are based on descending pitches). Falling Trio also features a lyrical “reconciliation theme,” interpolated twice in the work, with which the instruments attempt to reconcile the work’s tonal and non-tonal musical language.
String Quartet No 5 (“American”) was commissioned in 2011 by Mr Don Thompson for the Delray String Quartet, based in South Florida. The large-scale work embraces in sound and spirit the stylistic influences of the American symphonic school that have dominated my recent orchestral scores, including An American Place, Atlantic Riband, Discover the Wild, and United Artists. A broad and angular “American” melodic theme unifies the entire four-movement composition; the voicing of the contrapuntal lines and resultant harmonies is open, suggesting space and distance. The music is alternately lyrical and playful, sometimes brusque and muscular, at times elegiac, and it is meant to suggest the resilience and brash optimism of the American spirit. The third movement of the work, cast as an adagio elegy, adapts motivic elements of the Falling Man theme.
Rigorous contrapuntal procedure is paramount in all of my musical compositions, perhaps no more so in the purity of the string quartet medium for which some of the most enduring music of the Western tradition has been composed. String Quartet No 5 (“American”) is an in-depth exploration of the contrapuntal possibilities inherent in the single “American” melodic theme that is exposed by the first violin at the beginning of the work.”
The three works were recorded by GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Judith Sherman at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, and The Hit Factory, Miami, Florida.
Photos from the performances and recording sessions:
Kenneth Fuchs’s fourth CD on Naxos will be released worldwide in April 2013. His third album, available from August 2012 will feature his Atlantic Riband, Divinum Mysterium, American Rhapsody and Discover the Wild, performed by London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of JoAnn Falletta.