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ClassicsOnline Home » FUCHS, K.: String Quartet No. 5, "American" / Falling Canons / Falling Trio (O'Riley, Trio21, Delray String Quartet)
Kenneth Fuchs is one of America’s leading composers and his music is performed worldwide. After writing Falling Man, a work for baritone voice and orchestra based on the post-9/11 novel by Don DeLillo, Fuchs explored the principal theme in his rigorously developed Falling Canons for solo piano. Falling Trio grows out of the same theme, and from its ethereal opening presents a series of seven fantasy variations. String Quartet No 5 is an exciting, large-scale work that explores the contrapuntal possibilities of a single ‘American’ theme.
By Gary Higginson
Kenneth Fuchs (b 1956)
Falling Canons • Falling Trio • String Quartet No 5 (‘American’)
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 2008–2010. 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 third on 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 longtime 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. The première performance was given on September 18, 2011, at Bargemusic, an enclosed floating chamber music venue moored under the Brooklyn Bridge with a picture window view of lower Manhattan and Ground Zero.
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 especially 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 first movement, cast in a modified three-part sonata-allegro form, telescopes other forms within the exposition, development, and recapitulation. The second movement is a fast scherzo cast in binary form. The third movement, cast as an adagio elegy, adapts motivic elements of the Falling Man theme. The final movement is cast in the form of a double fugue, based on subject material exposed in the development section of the first movement. The fugue subjects are composed idiomatically around the open strings of the violin, viola, and cello.
Rigorous contrapuntal procedure is paramount in all of my musical compositions, perhaps no more so than 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.
Falling Man will be recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, featuring Roderick Williams, baritone, conducted by JoAnn Falletta on 1 September, 2013, at Abbey Road Studios for my fourth Naxos orchestral recording (8.559753).
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