Revisiting Werther, which I composed for Da Capo Chamber Players in 1983, has caused me to think not only about the context in which I composed it, but also how my attitude towards Goethe’s novel has changed during the intervening years. When I composed the piece, I had just reread Goethe’s touching novel. And, then, as now, I was convinced that music, with its direct emotional impact, could embody turmoil, anger, meditation and many other qualities, despite their ineffability. As I mentioned in my program notes, I tried to musically express emotional qualities ranging from anguish, to gentleness, to frustration. Scored for Pierrot Ensemble(fl, dbl picc; cl; vln; vcl; pno), the piece begins with a piercing cry and ends with repeated frenzied chordal cracks, ending the piano lid slamming against the piano body. My piece is about the struggle to overcome inner demons; we are not always able to do so! While the anguish all around us dwarfs that of one individual, especially one who is suffering ‘only’ emotionally, the novel reminds us how potent that suffering can be. At the time of composition, I was deeply engaged with the novel, though I was are of the larger context. Now, I am much more aware of how, when in the grips of one’s own suffering, it can be impossible to see or act beyond it. Whether it is acted out on oneself, as in this case, or on the community, as in so many mass shootings in our society, it is crucial to examine such feelings through the arts. Also, after composing Werther, I realized that while the direct influence was Goethe’s novel, other art with expressionistic elements, such as that of Egon Schiele, and music, such as that of Schoenberg, contributed to my creative temperament. There is a dark heart that is compelling!

Werther was recorded by Da Capo Chamber Players on my Dreamtigers CD, and has performed by numerous ensembles, including the Twentieth Century Consort, Alternate Currents, and the New Performance Group in Seattle.

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