About this Recording
8.559637 - GOMPPER, D.: Violin Concerto / Ikon / Flip / Spirals (David, Zazofsky, Royal Philharmonic, Siffert)

David Gompper (b. 1954)
Violin Concerto • Ikon • Flip • Spirals


The present collection focuses on a series of works for violin in different combinations written between 1993 and 2009. The Violin Concerto had been gestating for a number of years and began in the year 2000 when the Viennese violinist Wolfgang David performed at the University of Iowa. I was so impressed with his playing that I engaged him in a recital at the Wigmore Hall, and suggested we work together as a duo. Since then we have performed over a hundred recitals, mixing contemporary with standard nineteenth-century repertoire. This provided me with an unexpected opportunity to probe more deeply into how to compose for the violin. It was a life-changing experience in many ways, and in the ensuing period I wrote two more duets for him based on Irish fiddle tunes, Star of the County Down and Music in the Glen.

In 2005 Wolfgang David encouraged me to write a Violin Concerto, which I began during a three-week artist-residency at the Banff Centre over the winter break. I continued to collect material and sketch out ideas, and eventually I wrote a violin and piano version called Echoes. Before each of the performances, Wolfgang David and I reconsidered every note, phrase and section. I would add or subtract material until a ‘final’ version emerged.

I allowed myself about three years to ‘orchestrate’ Echoes. I spent one entire summer on this effort, only to start again one year later. From these experiences—duet performances and three different orchestrations—solutions to pacing and instrumentation became evident. I also related my sonic experience in the mountains to points of sound heard over time and distance, repeated and bounced back and forth: cycles of echoes, long or short, sudden or predictable. The idea of ‘echo’ refers directly to the dialogue that occurs between violin and instruments within the orchestra, including the notion of echoes from the distant past (musical ideas referenced from earlier movements), often discursively, sometimes directly and simultaneously.

The work entitled Ikon is a musical representation of a nineteenth-century Russian house icon of St Nicolas I acquired in Tallinn, Estonia, in June 2008 when on a performance tour with Wolfgang David. Studying how iconographers created the proportion and placement of objects in their icons, I learned that they used a compass, creating arcs based on various lengths of string. I then transferred those ratios to the composition, reflecting the icon as one views it in time, from lower left to upper right.

Three elements are present in the iconic rendering: a triangle (created from the crosses of the stole), a square (book of the Gospels), and three circles (in which the figures of the saint, as well as Christ and Mary appear nimbated). The main motive is derived from three layers of pitch matrices revealed specifically through a ‘window, as if looking into the spirit world,’ created by the triangle.

Flip, written in 1993 for the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, is a playful exhibition of three elemental ideas and their transformation as they ‘flip’ or switch places—registrally (high to low) and instrumentally (violins to double bass); harmonically and melodically—and eventually ‘flip-out’ with much protracted and extended emotional eruptions. Snippets of musical ideas are “borrowed”: the first phrase from the music of the popular TV show of the 1970s, Flipper, as well as the rhythmic generator of the samba taken from the 1985 film Brazil, where the main character ‘flips-out’. The work contains various bursts of energy that set the gestures in motion, like a dancer doing back-flips, or one angered as they ‘flip’ someone off, including the uncertainty of the other’s response.

The final work, Spirals, dates from 2007. In this composition, the Fibonacci series is applied to all musical parameters, including pitch distribution, density control and formal and micro-rhythmic structural formulations. The work is in one movement with three distinct sections (moderato, slow, fast). The use of the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…) has been noted throughout the worlds of nature, art, music, and mathematics, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. I have always been attracted to games, that is, setting up restricted parameters with rules and letting the contraption ‘run’ through its paces. I thought of the idea of a spiral first, which led to the ratios exhibited in the Fibonacci series. For this composition, I worked with two spirals, one the length of eight minutes and the second thirteen minutes. I connected the two spirals end to end, at a fixed point such that the single object ‘spiraled’ outwards and back inwards. But as in Flip, I inverted or flipped many of the ideas. For instance, the low pizzicati in the opening section switch to high-sustained harmonics in the coda, yet share similar rhythmic durations.

One might note in particular that the opening harmonies of my piece are restricted to a C major sonority, allowing me to concentrate on rhythm and its textural outcome as an environment in preparation for the entrance of the solo voices. On my mind was a quotation by Boulez (Irish Times, 14th February 2004), which basically noted that a composer learns to balance and coordinate his materials and elements: if pitch is given to complexity, for example, then other musical elements should be subordinated in the interest of intelligibility. I kept this principle in mind while composing the entire piece.

These notes reflect my response to a series of questions posed in an interview with Glenn Watkins, Earl. V. Moore Professor of Music History emeritus at the University of Michigan in the Fall of 2010. Watkins is the author of five books, including The Gesualdo Hex (2010), Proof Through The Night (2003), and Pyramids at the Louvre (1994).

David Gompper

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