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Valse triste cover design


Valse triste-2005



Music by: Andrew Thomas
Poem by:
Howard L. Kessler

Copyright © PA 1-300-299

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Valse triste (sad waltz)
Four movements with Prologue & Epilog

Overture (Prologue)
Raucous sounds from the wild calliope…
strike one, two, three - the rhythmic castanets…
sculpted horse-puppets pantomiming life,
chase a swirl of rainbowed incandescence.
Programmed familiar tunes steer emotions.
Passion’s flames are fanned mechanically.
Gears and chains grant loose-reign… the wild beasts!
When quiet dawns only machines remain.

1) Love’s Libido
Percussive beats lead the rhythm of hearts.
Pulsing lights make desire appear like need.
Faces materialize then vanish.
Eyes reflect the swarming electric stars
whose blazing dance comes falsely from within.
There is an indifference in the glow’s source,
be it in the eyes, be it in the mind…
Act now! Thinking only delays action.

2) Love’s Likeness
Masks are fashioned in the styles of drama.
Costumes: clothes, hair, and superficial speech,
character-connect each presentation
impelling each personage to play their part.
Habits of nature and fictional wants
nurtures self-love in the guise of others.
‘Romance is forever’ too often is spoke.
‘Forever’ may linger only ‘for now.’

3) Love Like
Up and down, the painted ponies ride
like rolling swells on a moonlit river.
They ride the moment of love’s illusion.
Visions in mirrors with faces too small
are blind to all matters beyond their frames.
Love hints nothing of life’s long stillnesses
or one’s unjustifiable demands.
Ride tickets run out, eventually.

4) Love’s Litter
Reality starts when the darkness ends.
The chase was too short, too long, way too fast,
way too slow, too quiet, too loud, too bright,
too dull. “I would have been better alone
or with someone who could be just more… more.”
The ears of the steeds reveal their chipped paint
as it is each time the riders dismount.
Singly they walk till their next need to ride.

Valse triste (Epilogue)
One…two…three, One…two…three, and…and again
they chase the lights on the programmed stallions.
Wanting to see magic in reflective glass
each wants, each time, each spark from the prism
to remain in ‘Dreamland’, not in the real.
Each in the ornate beveled mirrors sees
themselves on machines that they buy onto,
riding their own familiar tune, ‘Valse triste.‘

Howard L. Kessler (b: 1949)

Program Notes:

Valse triste began its life as a short, intermediate level composition for Simon Boyar, when he was in high school, studying percussion in the Pre-College Division at The Juilliard School. Simon played the work in his senior recital, and performed it so easily that I realized I had under-estimated him, and that the music could have been much more elaborate and thought-provoking.

The composition (and my feeling of incompleteness) stayed in the back of my mind for several years as a project to revisit and revise. When Simon continued his growth as an artist, graduated from the Juilliard College Division and joined the percussion faculty of the Pre-College, he asked me for a new work, and my thoughts returned to this earlier piece. I wanted to preserve the simple essence of the original work, but place it in a much more luxuriant context. The revised work is a meditation on the waltz, and a set of variations with the original thematic material appearing at the end of the composition.

The Marimba is a challenging instrument. Its physical demands are constraining, and the composer has to constantly think of the physical space of the player, and the limitations of four mallets. Paradoxically, the expressive potential of the instrument is boundless, and because of it’s enormous range of color, timbre, and touch, I regard it as an important and serious instrument. My solo composition Merlin1 had an early success, and the problem I have had to face in subsequent works, like an author who has published a successful first novel, concerned exploring and creating new ideas without falling into the trap of merely rewriting the first piece.

One solution has been to ‘build’ the music, like a choreographer on the bodies of the musicians I write for. William Moersch, who commissioned "Merlin"1* and "Loving Mad Tom" 2* is very tall, with long arms, and I took advantage of his physique to write music that sounds simultaneously at both the high and low extremes of the instrument. Makoto Nakura, who commissioned "Wind" 3* is shorter than Bill, and his body, like a sprinter, excels at great speed. Nancy Zeltsman, who commissioned "The Great Spangled Fritillary" 4* and "Three Transformations" 5* is lithe, and deft in the use of her body. Simon Boyar is built like a boxer, and that physique, combined with his background in drum corps, gave me a fresh physical sense of how to approach this infinitely varied instrument. I watched Simon in the studio, began a new work for solo snare drum as an exercise in using the drum corps rhythms, and held frequent discussions with Simon as he explored his ability to produce rapid patterns of repeated notes using just the two mallets in either hand. The dancer/choreographer Stephen Pier also observed Simon during this period and made several observations that helped Simon achieve the freedom and relaxation he was searching for in this technical exploration.

Out of these studio experiments, a structure for the work evolved, and a musical impetus formed, which was sharpened and refined by Howard Kessler’s poem, written after hearing Simon and I discuss the nature of the music in each section, and the dramatic events that we thought were happening throughout the music.

The resulting composition is therefore one that has been fed by many sources - historical, physical, poetic, personal, and dramatic. And this work will in turn lay the foundation for future percussion works I hope to write.

Andrew Thomas

*1 "Merlin", for solo marimba
*2 "Loving Mad Tom", concerto for marimba and orchestra
*3 "Wind", for solo marimba
*4 "The Great Spangled Fritillary", for violin and marimba
*5 "Three Transformations", for two marimbas

As artists we are blessed with a unique window that allows us to intimately view the processes that make us who we are as individuals. It has been an honor and a privilege for me to share this vantage point with teachers, students, other artists and audience members as they seek to enrich their lives. Throughout the creation of "Valse triste" I had the pleasure of partnering with Andy Thomas. I will remain eternally grateful to him for all that he taught me about myself throughout this process.

One of the most important experiences that defined me as a young person was performing in The Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps . In early discussions Andy took a focused and specific interest in this part of my musical upbringing. To familiarize him with some of these aggressive rhythms, we met on a near weekly basis where I would perform some short etudes that I composed highlighting these rudiments. These writings resulted in corps style rhythms played by the inner two mallets (mallets 2 and 3) and, more strikingly, some of the same rhythms to be played by just one hand in an independent frenzy.

The performer who learns Valse triste will therefore have to learn the following three techniques:
1) Drumming rhythms in mallets 2 & 3 (inner mallets)
2) Similar Drumming rhythms played by each hand individually
3) The performance of complex linear scales and arpeggios at great speed with one hand while the other hand plays complex harmony - using the mallets in the spirit with which the piano uses fingers

With that, I now offer the excitement of these personal discoveries to you the performer. The rewards of mastering these techniques will give you new freedom as a player, and widen your sense of the expressive powers of the Marimba. The music may also inspire you to find your own way into playing the work, and finding your own unique voice.

It is my sincere hope that as you familiarize yourself with "Valse triste" you will enjoy your growing process with it as much as Andy and I grew in our work together. "Valse triste" is a difficult, sometimes sarcastic, and honest look at humanity. Although on the surface the work may appear sad and even disturbed, there is an ironic wink imbedded born from the awe, love, and respect for the infinitely precious journeys that defy our innocent expectations. Enjoy!

Simon Boyar

Comissioned & Premiered: 2005, The Juilliard School, Simon Boyar, marimba