About this Recording
8.559335 - FUCHS, K.: Canticle to the Sun / United Artists

Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956)
United Artists • Quiet in the Land
Fire, Ice, and Summer Bronze • Autumn Rhythm • Canticle to the Sun


In September 2003, I had the extraordinary experience of having three of my orchestral works recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. I was dazzled by the orchestra's ability to collectively read at sight and simultaneously record the most virtuosic musical passages, without prior acquaintance with the music. In anticipation of our second recording project together, in November 2006, I composed United Artists as a tribute to this remarkable group of musicians. The principal musical element of the composition is a four-note motive – the intervals of a descending perfect fourth, an ascending major sixth, and an ascending minor second – stated forcefully at the outset by the entire orchestra. This motive is extended and taken up in various melodic and harmonic combinations and provides the basis for musical development throughout the remainder of the composition.

Although a purely abstract musical composition, Quiet in the Land can also be heard as a sonic ode to the expansive landscapes and immense arching sky of the great Midwestern Plains. This quintet was composed in Oklahoma during the start of the war in Iraq, and throughout the compositional process, I wondered how quiet the spirit of our land might be. The work has an ambiguous quality, represented by the inconclusive nature of the harmonic language. Quiet in the Land is cast in one movement and is unified by a chorale, which, hesitantly stated at the outset, reappears throughout the composition, alternating with lyrical fragments played contrapuntally by all instruments. The principal musical elements of the entire composition are the intervals of a minor second, major and minor thirds, a perfect fifth, and a minor seventh.

Fire, Ice, and Summer Bronze is the third work of mine inspired after works by the Abstract Expressionist artist Helen Frankenthaler, in this case two works on paper, "Fire and Ice" and "Summer Bronze". The first movement of this brass quintet is in two sections. "Fire" represents restless and contradictory feelings. The second section, "Ice", played entirely with mutes, represents serene but inconclusive feelings. The second movement, "Summer Bronze", represents repose. Throughout the piece, the French horn serves as a musical catalyst, cajoling the two trumpets, trombone, and bass trombone into spirited commentary and reflection upon six pitches that unify the work, D-sharp, E, G, C, B, and D-natural.

Autumn Rhythm is inspired by Jackson Pollock's monumental canvas of the same title that hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Pollock's pioneering work – along with the creations of other Abstract Expressionists – made a big impression on me during my formative creative years in New York. I wanted to capture in this woodwind quintet the mystery as well as the loose dancing energy of Pollock's famous "drip" painting. Autumn Rhythm is also a tribute to my first composition teacher, Alfred Reed, who died just as I was beginning work on the piece. It occurred to me that a work for winds inspired by a season in which many of nature's living elements recede to the earth would be an appropriate tribute to him. The first section of Autumn Rhythm – Moderato – introduces the principal musical elements of the entire composition. From a hushed texture, the five players intone the intervals of a minor second, minor third, perfect fifth, and a minor seventh. These intervals and their inversions are developed in various melodic and harmonic combinations throughout a fast and energetic middle section – Allegro – and a ruminative closing section – Larghetto. An unusual aspect of this composition is that in its final section the flute, oboe, and clarinet metamorphose into their lower – perhaps autumnal – counterparts, the alto flute, English horn, and bass clarinet.

During the 2003 recording sessions with the LSO, I met Timothy Jones, principal horn of the orchestra. I have always loved the French horn, and Tim's virtuosic playing inspired me. I decided then and there that I had to write a concerto for him, and he agreed. Canticle to the Sun takes its creative impulse from a tune in the Geistliche Kirchengesang, dated 1623. The tune is built on a single musical motif of four notes and is extended by sequences and inversions. Ralph Vaughan Williams harmonized the tune in 1906. The hymn sung by churchgoers today is based upon the text Canticle to the Sun, written by St Francis of Assisi, ca. 1225, and reflects St Francis's pantheistic love of nature. The text was translated and adapted for hymn singing by William H. Draper in 1925. The first stanza calls on the sun:

All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Canticle to the Sun places the French horn soloist in the role of a celebrant, leading the orchestra in a vibrant affirmation of melody, color, and texture. The work emerges from a sparkling string texture with the French horn weaving a lyrical strand of melody based upon the hymn tune. The work subsequently takes the form of a single-movement tapestry of fantasy variations based upon the simple triadic intervals and scale fragments of the hymn tune.

Kenneth Fuchs

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