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ClassicsOnline Home » DANIELPOUR, R.: Symphony No. 3, "Journey Without Distance" / First Light / The Awakened Heart (Esham, Seattle Symphony Chorale and Orchestra, Schwarz)
Strongly inclined towards neo-romanticism, Richard Danielpour’s music is a rich unity of energy, intensity, and serenity. First Light reveals these elements perfectly with its rhythmically charged writing contrasting with hypnotic chant melodies. The Awakened Heart is a kaleidoscopic three-movement work that ranges from darkness and passion through a stately chorale to an exuberant and breathless conclusion. Symphony No 3 charts a triumphant ascent from “the dream of death and our own fearful existence” to a belief “in a world of hope and love.” “Danielpour is an outstanding composer for any time—one who knows how to communicate deep, important emotions through simple, direct means.” (The New York Daily News)
Richard Danielpour (b. 1956)
First Light • The Awakened Heart • Symphony No 3 ‘Journey Without Distance’
Richard Danielpour was born in New York, in 1956, into a family of Persian-Jewish heritage. His early musical training was as a pianist, and he went on to keyboard studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, where his teachers included Lorin Hollander. Drawn to composition, he studied at The Juilliard School, where he earned a doctoral degree.
Danielpour’s principal teachers at Juilliard were Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin, composers who are now viewed as forerunners of the school of American composition sometimes called “the new Romanticism.” Danielpour’s music inclines strongly toward neo- Romanticism. Expressive reticence is not a characteristic of his work, and the composer has stated his belief that “music [must] have an immediate visceral impact and elicit a visceral response.” Danielpour’s compositions do precisely that—sometimes through bold, even aggressive, orchestral writing coupled with intense rhythmic energy, sometimes with quiet serenity that suggests rapt introspection. The composer cites American composers John Adams, Joseph Schwantner and Christopher Rouse among his influences. He also acknowledges the Beatles as important to his development, though there are few, if any, discernible references to pop music quality in his work.
Danielpour found an early champion in conductor Gerard Schwarz, who appointed him composer-inresidence with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in 1991. The composer also has served residencies with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Pacific Symphony Orchestras, as well as with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Danielpour’s orchestral music has been widely performed throughout the United States, not only by the orchestras with which he has been resident composer but also by the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Baltimore, Atlanta, and San Francisco symphony orchestras, the American Composers Orchestra, and other ensembles. European orchestras performing his work include the London Philharmonia, the Berlin and Cologne Symphonies, the Orchestre National de France, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Among the soloists and other performers who have played Danielpour’s music are Yo-Yo Ma, who commissioned a Cello Concerto from the composer, Sarah Chang, Dawn Upshaw, Thomas Hampson, the Emerson Quartet and other leading artists. In addition to his concert music, Danielpour has composed an opera, Margaret Garner, with a libretto by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. Danielpour teaches composition at the Manhattan School of Music and at the Curtis Institute, in Philadelphia.
First Light was composed in 1988 on a commission from Gerard Schwarz. The work, whose title derives from verses by Robert Duncan, unfolds as a single movement in four sections. These present, in alternation, music that is violent, frenetic and rhythmically charged and, on the other hand, quiet, slow-moving and intimating deep tranquility. The faster music, heard at the outset and again in the third section of the piece, combines Stravinskian sharp-edged rhythmic asymmetry with steady pulsing reminiscent of the American minimalist school, though there is none of the repetition and relative harmonic stasis that characterize the music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass. The second of the two slow sections, which concludes First Light, includes paraphrases of two Alleluias from Roman Catholic liturgy. These chant melodies, Danielpour notes, “are not extraneous quotes but serve both as a source for much of the material found throughout the…work and as an ultimate destination of the music’s journey.”
The Awakened Heart followed First Light by two years. Danielpour has likened its three movements to a medieval triptych, an altarpiece composed of three panels, each complete in itself but that together relate a larger narrative. The composer adds that the subject and inspiration for this piece is “a journey into freedom from bondage—the path to inner freedom.”
Danielpour describes the first movement as being “very much concerned with awakening.” The initial sounds certainly convey a sense of coming out of slumber, perhaps even being called out of it. Here an obsessively reiterated low tone and hazy sonorities for the strings are countered by clarion calls and melodic arabesques sounded by flute, oboe and trumpet in turn. All this proves a preface to the more active main body of the movement, the somnolent sounds giving way suddenly to what the composer describes as “compulsive, maniacal music.” Some relief is provided by lighter episodes, but these nevertheless convey, according to Danielpour “a certain foreboding.” The final minute brings an apocalyptic descent toward darkness and silence, a denouement that justifies the movement’s title, Into the World’s Night. Danielpour explains that this phrase comes from the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger, who used it in referring to the prospect of an end of civilization.
Danielpour calls the second movement “a meditation” and identifies it as “the heart of the piece and also its turning point, emotionally and dramatically.” Titled Epiphany, this portion of the work is built around a stately chorale, to which the composer juxtaposes rhapsodic melodic statements and other ideas.
Danielpour found the title of the finale, My Hero Bares His Nerves, in a poem by Dylan Thomas. The composer states that this third movement is inspired by the idea of having the courage to live fully. “It’s about the path of fearlessness,” he explains. The music is highly kinetic, proceeding at breakneck speed and touching on materials from each of the preceding movements, which are, however, recalled in quite altered forms.
Danielpour composed his Symphony No 3 in 1989. He recalls, “I wrote the symphony very quickly, with the sense of receiving it instead of willing it. The unorchestrated draft took eighteen days for a thirty-minute piece. That’s very unusual for me.” That creative process that apparently proceeds of its own volition seems appropriate in view of the work’s inspiration. Journey Without Distance is based on A Course in Miracles, a book that was “scribed” by Helen Schucman, a Columbia University professor of medical psychology, between 1965 and 1972. Schucman, whose authorship remained secret until her death in 1981, claims to have received her text through a process of dictation from an inner voice, which announced itself with the words: “This is a course in miracles, please take notes.” Danielpour describes the book as being about “the power of transformation through healing relationships,” and adds: “That is really the subject of my Third Symphony: It’s about healing.”
Scored for orchestra, chorus and solo soprano, this work unfolds as a single large movement in two parts. The first section presents what Danielpour has described as “a series of nightmare tableaux in the mind of an individual, interspersed with the voice of an angel who invites the soul to try another path.” More specifically, this angelic voice asks, the composer notes, that we “awaken from the dream of death and our own fearful existence and believe in a world of hope and love.”
The second portion of the work commences with an instrumental chorale, after which the angelic voice returns to declare that the journey to God is “a journey without distance.” There follows, Danielpour explains, “music of reconciliation and embrace of the life both within us and around us.” Here dissonance gives way to more soothing harmonies, agitation to calmer rhythms and tempo. The symphony concludes with a long choral prayer affirming that darkness and death have been replaced by life and a world of light. Various musical materials heard in the first half of the symphony recur here, but with the earlier sense of fear and turmoil they carried having given way to a sense of inner peace.
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