As to Efflorescence

Premiered on March 29, 2017
Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra
Pablo Devigo, conductor
Mixon Hall
Cleveland Institute of Music
Cleveland, Ohio

Broadcast on Cleveland's Classical 104.9 WCLV
Cleveland Ovations
May 3, 2017

"The Germ is the real thing; the seat of identity.
Within its delicate mechanism lies the will to power:
the function which is to seek and eventually to find its full expression in form.
The seat of power and the will to live constitute the simple working idea 
upon which all that follows is based - as to efflorescence."

Louis H. Sullivan, A System of Architectural Ornament

As to Efflorescence was inspired by the structures, drawings, and philosophy on the creative process of American architect, Louis Sullivan. In his treatise, A System of Architectural Ornament, Sullivan presents a series of sequential drawings illustrating how the creative impulse transforms essential ideas into vast and detailed ornamentation programs for his buildings' exteriors and interiors. His ornamentation programs are integrated into the structural elements of his buildings in a profound application of the guiding principle of his creative life, that "form ever follows function."

The experience of As to Efflorescence is a continuous exploration of the opening gesture. The compositional process was a recursive experience: as new ideas emerged from the foreground or back ground, they inspired new textures, melodic contours, harmonies, etc. In some instances, the smallest musical expression overwhelms the texture to become the primary musical idea, changing the music's trajectory. The result is a form that is one expression of the perceived function and expressive potential of the music as realized through my creative abilities. Much in the same way the following plates represent the result of one creative act with basic materials (pentagon, lines) the elemental material of As to Efflorescence has been the basis for several of my compositions. In my own work, these elemental materials are directly analogous to the geometric forms and stylized organic flora from which Sullivan creates his vast works of art.

Plate 4 from Sullivan's treatise illustrates the modification of the basic geometric form of a pentagon, "through man's manipulation of a central idea, into plastic, mobile and fluescent phases of expression tending towards culmination in foliate and efflorescent forms." From the rigid structure of the pentagon, arcs bend inward from the sides, are repeated and divided on the outside, producing radial lines where the points of the arcs converge. They extend to the center in one direction and beyond the structure pentagon in the opposite direction. By the fourth iteration, the original pentagon is already receding into the background as the arcs slowly develop into Sullivan's "foliate and efflorescent forms," reminiscent of thistle leaves.
Plate 6 illustrates how an initial form comprised of three lines of varying trajectories develops differently when each line dominates the expressive space of the form. Sullivan presents a version of the full expression of the lines with equal weight in the bottom right drawing.

Though not the beginning of one musical idea's development, the first trumpet's line in mm. 53-55 illustrates how Sullivan's creative principles were applied to the act of composing. This line is the antecedent of a phrase and has already come a considerable way from the background nascent version earlier in the piece. At this point in m. 53, however, the musical material of a step-wise rising third returning to the first note is brought to the foreground as the primary line - much to the same effect as how the arc that emerged from the pentagon became the primary structural entity once the pentagon disappeared into the background in Plate 4.

Following the first culmination of the piece in the brass in m. 62, the strings absorb and transfer the energy of the climax using a background textural figure first used in the strings in m. 44. The winds emerge with an extended version of the horn quarter-note triplet figure from m. 47. In m. 47, the strings reiterate the opening gesture, but recede from the foreground to give way to the horn figure and brass texture which dominates the passage.

In mm. 75-81, the texture can be immediately related to the Plate 6 illustrations. The triplet horn figure (now in the winds) dominates the expressive foreground. The strings, and later, bass clarinet, continue the figure first heard in the strings' background texture from m. 44, which had its moment in the foreground in m. 66. The piano and harp play a quiet background phrase which is a harmonization of the trumpet melody that surfaced in m. 53 - stepwise ascending third that returns to the first note. A clarinet solo follows in m. 82 reminiscent of the melodic contours of the strings from m. 25. Below it, the 16th-note background gesture continues as the fultes play a chromatically inflected version of their first triplet quarter-note phrase. This chromatic inflection is the most profoundly impactful, yet humble element in the piece - analogous to Sullivan's seed germ concept. More distantly below, the harp and piano reiterate their idea.

Gradually, the texture clears away to one single note in the first violins. From this moment of stillness, the single note ascends a third displaced by an octave. Using the energy of the large leap and increased dynamic, the monochromatic single pitch explodes into the most densely harmonized expression of the ascending third melody. The peak of the phrase in m. 103 is followed by a necessary softening of the harmony, becoming a static underpinning for an English horn solo which has been, up to this point, without an expressive identity being tucked far into the background on a musical molecular level. The English horn solo reaches its full expressive potential in the oboe solo beginning m. 196, underpinned by a re-orchestrated and less dense re-contextualization of the opening sonority.

(Short program notes available upon request.)

3 flutes (2nd doubles alto, 3rd doubles piccolo)
2 oboes
English horn
3 b-flat clarinets
b-flat bass clarinet
2 bassoons
4 f horns
3 c trumpets
2 tenor trombones
bass trombone
percussion 1 (glockenspiel, marimba, large tam tam, large suspended cymbal, chimes)
percussion 2 (vibraphone, chimes, large suspended cymbal)
percussion 3 (bass drum, large triangle, glockenspiel)
piano/celesta (one player)
strings (at least players, score is notated to players)