About this Recording
8.559753 - FUCHS, K.: Falling Man / Movie House / Songs of Innocence and Experience (R. Williams, London Symphony, Falletta)

Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956)
Falling Man • Movie House • Songs of Innocence and of Experience


Falling Man, Don DeLillo’s powerful 2007 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. Falling Man is cast in the form of a dramatic scena for baritone voice and orchestra. The work’s principal melodic and harmonic elements are organized around a falling twelve-tone theme, fragments of which emerge at the outset, first in the orchestra and then with the setting of the first line of text, “This was the world now, a time and space of falling ash and near night.” The compositional manipulation of the theme’s twelve individual pitches 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. I am grateful to Don DeLillo for granting permission for the use of his text and to J.D. McClatchy for his eloquent adaptation for musical setting.

When I read John Updike’s new novel Rabbit is Rich in 1982, I knew I had come upon a writer whose words would inspire me for a very long time. Updike’s observations about American life and the objects and desires of the American sensibility spoke directly to me. Movie House is a cycle of seven poems set for baritone voice and chamber ensemble (flute, oboe, clarinet, string trio, and harp) from Updike’s second volume of poetry, Telephone Poles, published in 1963. The poems include Telephone Poles, Maples in a Spruce Forest, Seagulls, The Short Days, Movie House, Modigliani’s Death Mask, and Summer: West Side. I was attracted to these poems because of their optimistic evocations of life during the 1950s, the decade in which I was born. Read some fifty years later, the poems have a nostalgic quality that seems both ironic and poignant. I chose the title of the poem Movie House as the title of the entire work. The first poem, Telephone Poles, introduces the phrase “our eyes” and the idea of observation, which runs throughout the cycle. The music accompanying that phrase (an ascending major second followed by an ascending major sixth) forms the musical motive from which the melodic and harmonic structure of the entire work evolves. The musical setting of each poem, like the images on a movie screen, provides the listener with an aural, visual, and emotional perspective from which to observe the world.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience is a cycle of four poems set for baritone voice and chamber ensemble (flute, oboe, violoncello, and harp) from William Blake’s iconic two-part illustrated collection of poems Songs of Innocence and of Experience, published in 1794. I composed these settings in the fall of 1977 while an undergraduate composition student at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. They are among a few of my earliest compositions still performed today. I chose two songs from each book of Blake’s poems to create a cycle that contrasts bucolic innocence with the harsh realities of human existence. The Lamb represents unquestioning belief in Christianity. The music is simple and triadic. Holy Thursday describes the scene of London’s orphaned children on display at St Paul’s Cathedral, examples of the City’s beneficence in the midst of poverty. The music is bleak, with stark intervals of the fourth and fifth and no triadic resolution. Spring refers back to the innocence of the first poem, musically reviewing the elements of the first song before plunging headlong into the wild, unpredictable world of The Tyger. The atonal and jagged music of the latter is organized around elements of the twelve-tone system, using permutations of the inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion of the original melody to highlight the text. The singer declaims in sprechstimme the terrifying creation of The Tyger.

Kenneth Fuchs

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