Excerpt: “Wanton Modulations”
Instrumentation: Vocal quartet and piano 4-hands
New York Festival Chamber Players
Huntington Art Museum, Huntington, NY
Marvelous Pursuits is a setting of Barbara Goldberg’s poetry cycle of the same name, in a scoring for vocal quartet and piano 4-hands. Stimulated by a sentence about a man with two mistresses in an eighth-century Japanese Pillow-Book, the poetry is a post-modern take on love and desire. It shows them to be partial, temporary, byzantine. It plays with the biblical command not to covet thy neighbor’s wife, with a man desiring his own wife only when someone else displays interest. The cycle is by turns whimsical and barbed, delightful and treacherous as it tells the story of a man who gives up his two mistresses and returns to his wife, suddenly dear because of the piano tuner’s desire for her.
I was drawn to these poems for their humorous content, sonic wordplay, dramatic structure, and lively musicality. The internal rhyme in such pairs as mistresses/tranquillity; gaily/daily; kitchen/perfection; tart/ marzipan; and sherry/Vespers suggested musical designs that could amplify the words. The dramatic structure, with its varied character groups and the epiphany of the man’s return to his wife, suggested musical denouément as well. My instrumentation was inspired by the Liebeslieder of Brahms. Marvelous Pursuits was commissioned by the New York Festival Chamber Players and premiered by them on a program that also featured the Liebeslieder at the Huntington Museum in Huntington, New York.–JS