Instrumentation: Flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet, violin, cello, piano
Duration: 8:20
Premiere: 4/11/84
Da Capo Chamber Players
Carnegie Recital Hall, New York, NY

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Program Note:
Werther, scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, was inspired by Goethe’s 1774 novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Romanticism, with its striving for the unobtainable, its reaching beyond, its emotional emanations, permeates the book. In a series of letters, Werther tells of his yearning for Lotte, who is already betrothed to Albert. Werther, after a deepening friendship with Lotte that can not lead to fulfillment, ultimately commits suicide. This element of the story is woven into the clash of classes and the economic system. Based on a conflation of autobiographical experiences and poetic imagination, this is a story of inward struggle and rage against the system. I have tried to musically express the psychological anguish, lyrical encounters, and Werther’s final desperation.

Werther is in essence a romantic piece: The instruments represent both characters and qualities. The violin represents Lotte, the cello Werther; the flute spirituality, the clarinet sensuality, the piano inevitability. The piece opens with a piercing cry into the void. The cello breaks free with a soliloquy to which the other instruments respond. The shape of the piece weaves around the interaction of the cello and violin, who eventually have their own duet. But it is interrupted with increasing impatience. The piano intones the inevitability of fate, especially in a solo close to the end. Then, in a frenzy, and at the stroke of midnight, one hears the slammed piano lid echo the fatal shot of the shattering conclusion of the novel. Werther was composed for and premiered by the Da Capo Chamber Players. Other performances include those by the Twentieth Century Consort, Alternate Currents in San Francisco, and the New Performance Group in Seattle. –JS

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