Three poems by E.E. Cummings
Lasting for a duration of 22 minutes, the four-movement composition has the following characteristics. First, this work is for a relatively small orchestra, in which there is only one of each wind type: one piccolo, one flute, one alto flute, one oboe, one English horn, and so forth. Second, six players are playing from the very back of the orchestra, arranged in a semi-circle in this order: Perc. 1, Perc. 2, Celesta, Piano (lid off), Perc. 3, Perc. 4. They form a “wall” or “screen” of sound that surrounds the rest of the orchestra, and they often play with the harp obbligato part, as if to take the harp’s music and amplify it, like a spiraling helix, through the orchestra. Third, generally only pitched percussion are used. And finally, the notation is highly detailed and nuanced.
Perfumes of my “grandparents” can be smelled in the music—Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Mahler, Berg, Berio, Brahms, American Jazz, Knussen, and so forth. But it is not “stolen Debussy” or “paraphrased Stravinsky;” rather, it is all personal musical invention.
The wide variety of characters in the piece—graceful, majestic, spacious, spry, jazzy, resonant, elegant, playful, lively, rhythmic, punchy, and lyrical—imply a great deal of color and motion. Everything is an organic outgrowth of something else, and transformation is key.
The closing image of the final poem, “Absolute ocean,” became the title for the entire composition.
Augusta Read Thomas
View Full Score: Mezzo-soprano version