Elliott Grabill

composer | educator

Tag: love

Ocean Mermaid

This short musical poem features an undulating piano riff and a long, extended coda that sounds like laughing on the seashore.

When I Have Fears

for baritone voice and orchestra

When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

John Keats

When I Have Fears, ruminates on John Keats’ sonnet and the existential issues it presents. It features Keatsian imagery such as bird songs and slow, sarabande-like rhythms.

This recording features vocalist Rahzé Cheatham, with Nell Flanders conducting.  The orchestra is comprised of Peabody musicians.  The instrumentation is 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, a timpani, and strings.

Lake Pontchartrain

for string sextet (two violins, two violas, two cellos)

Water is emotion, and every body of water I visit makes me feel a different way.  Lake Pontchartrain is a shallow estuary in Louisiana just wide enough that one cannot see the other side.  To get to New Orleans, one must travel across its waters on a freeway or train elevated just above the surface.  On a cloudy, rainy day, the gray waters of Lake Pontchartrain evokes feelings of sadness, serenity, intimacy, and longing.  The piece begins and ends like the lake’s gentle, unending waves: instruments play long single notes at different times, creating a chord progression that sways between dissonant clusters and tonal harmonies.  The quiet middle sections are inspired by nature: wind rustling, birds chirping, and stillness.  It features sparse triadic gestures, microtones, and cellos bowing on the bridge.

Acousmatica

for stereo fixed media

 

Acousmatica is a dark, dystopic, post-apocalyptic leather romance with an element of danger.  This piece offers a journey in five short movements, weaving between dense machinery, urban waste, passion, and intimacy.

“Breathing” is a wall of rusty tone color that moves to the rhythm of deep breaths.  A more improvisatory “Spontaneity” then explores circular, undulating gesture.  After “Horizon” depicts a futuristic sunrise, “Trip” continues the gestural motion that “Spontaneity” began, this time with a more abrasive texture.  The piece ends with “I love you,” an electrically passionate conclusion transforming the tension built up in previous movements into sweeping melodic trajectories.

 

 

 

Nantucket

for men’s chorus

Nantucket is set to the William Carlos Williams poem bearing the same name.

To view a score of this piece, click here.

This recording is a performance by the Washington Men’s Camerata from 2009 at the Kennedy Center in DC, conducted by Frank Albinder.

 

Nantucket

by William Carlos Williams

Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

changed by white curtains –
Smell of cleanliness –

Sunshine of late afternoon –
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying — And the
immaculate white bed

Un Jardin

for stereo fixed media with optional video

One question I ask myself when writing music is “would I listen to this?”  I make it a habit to record everything I write or improvise.  I leave it alone for a while, and then listen again.  If it’s not engaging to me while I’m driving my car, getting dressed, or cooking dinner, I toss it for something that is.  My first computer piece, Un Jardin also became the piece that for a while I listened to far more than any other of my compositions.

I actually composed Un Jardin while writing a choral piece.  The piece wasn’t going anywhere, so I took a break and started playing with Garage Band on my computer.  I recorded overtones from my piano.  I edited out the initial strike of the piano key and faded in the sound.  Then I laid the recordings on top of each other, staggering them to create (unlike a piano, and more like a violin) a continuous sound.

Editing the gain, pan, and laying multiple tracks on top of each other were the only ways in which I used technology to alter the recordings.  The first movement, “Un Jardin,” begins with the soft sympathetic vibrations of the piano (caused by me striking open fifths) and reaches a warm climax with the fundamental vibrations of the lower piano strings.  In the second movement, “Ceres”, I created a grinding vortex of sound with a subtle, pulsating rhythm, sometimes with chords emerging from the stew of over 44 simultaneous tracks.  I took a similar though less radical approach with the third movement, “Quasi Sostenuto,” this time giving the piece more of a harmonic quality.

Though modern sounding, the structure of my three-movement piece takes influence from classical archetypal forms to lead the listener on a journey.  The arch-like first movement invites the listener into a hypnotically pensive soundscape and is followed by a “scherzo” of sorts in the second movement; the piece ends with the third movement returning the listener into a sublime meditative state before fading into nothingness.

Listen below!

I.  Un Jardin

I. Un Jardin

II.  Ceres

II. Ceres

III.  Quasi Sostenuto

III. Quasi Sostenuto

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