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Augusta Read Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Cantos for Slava (for viola and piano) (2007)
G Schirmer Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
Piano + 1 Instrument
Year Composed
12 Minutes
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Programme Note
Augusta Read Thomas Cantos for Slava (for viola and piano) (2007)
Slava fostered and fought for that outward-looking spirit that embraces openness, understanding and, above all, liberty. He believed that it was freedom of expression and a passionate devotion to the arts and to the universality of the idea of political liberty that allows the arts to flourish. Slava would not have wanted me to write solely a slow dirge or funeral song in his memory, as he was too full of life, creativity, new ideas, new sounds, energy, and passion.

Canto means any of the main divisions of a long poem. In Cantos for Slava, four cantos are played without pause, #1 and #3 each lasting about two minutes, #2 and #4 each lasting about 4 minutes. They are of contrasting moods, although all based on related materials. Cantos #1 and #3, fast, are directly interconnected, same with the slow Cantos #2 and #4.

Because Slava played pizzicato with marvelous power and musicality, an underlying concern of this composition is that of plucked sounds. For instance three techniques are to be played with a great variety of color: the viola playing pizzicato, short pizzicato-like notes or chords played on the keyboard, and plucking of strings inside the piano.

In Canto #1, which is characterized by playful and energized syncopated lines, the viola plays only pizzicato (never using the bow). In Canto #2, marked “Spacious, Elegant and Warm”, there is one plucked piano string for each of Slava's 80 years of life; and no single note is plucked more than once. (i.e.: 8 notes are not ever plucked assuming an 88-key piano). Above this round resonance of collected tones, the viola sings a long, soulful line, at times almost as if chanting- as if the viola was telling a story. Canto #3 interrelates Canto #1 and #2 for two minutes and serves as a transition to Canto #4, which is marked “Elegant and Lyrical”. It is a dreamy melodic trajectory and toward the very end, the score is marked: “…as if floating away into the sunshine…”

Cantos for Slava is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Frances Richard, Matt Haimovitz and Geoffrey Burleson.

— August Read Thomas

Related works:
   Cantos for Slava for cello and piano
   Cantos for Slava for viola and piano

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