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Mark Adamo

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Aristotle (2013)
Work Notes
Available for recordings after April 2015.
Text Writer
Billy Collins
G Schirmer Inc
Solo Voice(s) and up to 6 players
Year Composed
13 Minutes
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Programme Note
Mark Adamo Aristotle (2013)
Billy Collins

Composer's Note:
A piece for baritone and string quartet can, legitimately, be nothing more — or nothing less — than a song group, or cycle, with the strings standing in for the more usual piano. But if you're awarded the privilege of making music for a singing actor of the caliber of Thomas Hampson, and for young musicians of the caliber of the Jupiters, you want — well, I wanted — to compose a piece that's both a substantial monologue and a structurally rewarding string quartet at the same time. Billy Collins' pellucid Aristotle made that possible. His poem is built in three long but continuous sections, each spinning numerous, surprising variations on some necessary (to the philosopher) element of drama — beginning, middle, end. The range of Collins's images nudged the string writing into new (for me) colors and registers while demanding each movement retain its own character. However, while Collins's language was minutely expressive of his narrator's observations, it remained reticent about his emotions. How does the singer experience, rather than merely list, "the letter AY the song of betrayal, salted with revenge ... the hat on a peg, and, outside the cabin, falling leaves?" The poem doesn't tell you, so the vocal line must: which made the baritone's music needful, urgent, dramatic rather than merely decorative. Aristotle the poem is about drama. As well as a tribute to the artistry of its performers, I intend Aristotle the score as a drama itself.

— Mark Adamo


Phlip Cutlip, baritone; Canite Quartet
Composer Note

Mark Adamo


Mark Adamo's Aristotle can already be ranked as a 21st-century vocal masterpiece. Set to a poem by Billy Collins, the work is about the passage of time and the stages of life. It resonates on a personal level, especially for those of us moving into the later decades of our span. Mark Adamo's writing and the playing of the Jupiter Quartet provided Mr. Hampson with a marvelous vehicle in which the singer's artistry is fully presented.
Oberon's Grove,29/04/2013
He was a one-man Greek chorus in Collins’s poem, which muses on the beginning, the middle, and the end of life (thus following Aristotle’s precept) and seems to wonder why with time doesn’t come greater wisdom. Adamo wreathes the string quartet’s chugging lines around the baritone’s recitative, giving him plenty of room, and Hampson took it, agitated over the difficult births at the end of the “beginning” section, tender when he came to “the last elephant in the parade.” Collins’s poem ends with “falling leaves”; Adamo’s vocal line actually rises at this point. I wouldn’t have objected to hearing it encored.
Jeffrey Gantz, Boston Globe,29/04/2013
Aristotle is a fourteen-minute song, or mini-cycle, based on a three-part poem by former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins... The poem's open-ended ambiguity and the stream-of-conscious clichés inspire Adamo, the composer of the popular opera Little Women, to a series of musical snapshots, a stylistic sampler in episodic shorthand.

In a somewhat freer harmonic language than Adamo used in his opera, the instruments start with tight, pregnant dissonance, play repeatedly with ambiguous irresolution and end in a suavely understated rhapsody of glissandos to evoke the final images of "a streak of light in the sky … falling leaves." Irony gives way to sober lyricism...

Adamo's versatile vocal writing makes this a sure-fire vehicle for a virtuoso singer such as Hampson, whose rigor and polish were concealed by a show of casual spontaneity.
David J. Baker, Opera News,28/04/2013
That three-part song proved the highlight of baritone Thomas Hampson and the Jupiter String Quartet’s appearance at the Mondavi Center for the Arts on Wednesday evening.

Adamo’s music for Aristotle was married to Billy Collins’ vividly impressionistic poem of the same name. It’s easy to see why Adamo chose it for his musical inspiration. The 74-line poem nails the idea of how stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But make no mistake — the poem is far from a dry incantation of Aristotelian principles. Rather, it’s an intimate and vivid skein of images akin to the mise-en-scène of an experimental film, albeit one that hews to tried-and-true dramatic structure.
Edward Ortiz, San Francisco Classical Voice,24/04/2013
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