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Joan Tower

Publisher: AMP

Sequoia (1981),
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
16 Minutes
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Programme Note
Joan Tower Sequoia (1981),
Composer Note:

I think most composers would have to admit that they live, to various degrees, in the sound-worlds of other composers both old and new, and that what they consciously or unconsciously take from them enables them to discover what they themselves are interested in. Long ago, I recognized Beethoven as someone bound to enter my work at some point, because for many years I had been intimately involved in both his piano music and chamber music as a pianist. Even though my own music does not sound like Beethoven's in any obvious way, in it there is a basic idea at work which came from him. This is something I call the "balancing" of musical energies.

In Sequoia, that concept is not only very much present in the score but it actually led to the title (which is meant in an abstract rather than a pictorial sense). What fascinated me about sequoias, those giant California redwood trees, was the balancing act nature had achieved in giving them such great height.

Cast in three continuous movements (fast, slow, fast), Sequoia opens with a long-held pedalpoint on G with percussion punctuations. Around this central G (finally arrived at in a solo-trumpet note), there begins a fanning-out (first high, then low), on both sides of harmonies symmetrically built up or down from G. This "balancing" of registers like the branching of a tree, continues to develop into more complex settings, as the "branches" start to grow sub-branches. The main pedalpoint (or trunk, to continue the analogy) on G eventually shifts, both downward and upward, thereby creating a larger balancing motion that has a longer-range movement throughout the piece. Because musical gestures are not confined only to registers and harmonies, the balancing principle permeates every facet of Sequoia- most importantly, in the areas of rhythm, tempo, dynamics, pacing, texture and instrumental color. For example, the initial movement's first two sections (connected by quick, repeated Gs in the muted trumpet) exhibit a balancing of loud dynamics with soft; of heavy and thin sound (a possible parallel: despite the enormous size of sequoias, their "leaves" -literally, needles- are miniscule, the size of thumbnail); of static (one-note) and moving harmony; of many instruments with a few; of middle-low and middle-high registers, and so on. In this score, the pacing is active and energetic, perhaps suggesting (with the exception of occasional solo instrumental passages) the power and grandeur inherent in the sequoia.

— Joan Tower

  • Ensemble
    St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
    Leonard Slatkin
    First Edition:
The giant redwood tree was the inspiration for an adroit, imposingly assured score of colourful invention and invigorating Stravinskian rhythms.
Robert Henderson, Daily Telegraph,31/05/1991
Hallelujah! A contemporary orchestral piece that an alert audience can experience without yawning, scratching its collective head in bewilderment or groaning under the weight of tired academic formulas.
Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner,25/11/1982
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