Chant was composed, at the request of Jeanne and Norman Fischer in 1989. Clearly this represents one of my "earlier works’" thus it has been interesting to revisit the music recently and make the revisions which constitute this evening's version. I want to thank Kate Dillingham for commissioning this new version and for so beautifully premiering it.
In making the revisions, I did not re-write the piece, turning it into something I would compose today (now, hopefully as a more mature composer than I was in 1989). Rather I decided to 'leave it alone,' representing and respecting the 24- and 25-year old Augusta who composed it. This was the only thing to do, since if I totally rewrote it now, it would be a completely different work. There would be nothing left of Chant. As a composer it is truly interesting to revisit your earlier self like a time warp right before your ears. I can still smell in the score the musical influences that affected me at that time: Brahms, Messiaen, Debussy, Jazz, and Berg, to name a few.
One thing that remains the same in my music is that my favorite moment in any piece of music is the moment of maximum risk and striving. Whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, ordinary or eccentric...! Maybe another way to say: this is the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul. All art that I cherish has an element of love and recklessness and desperation. I like music that is alive and jumps off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake. This music must be played with all the passion of an emergency.
The work starts with an ardent and majestic lyric in the highest register of the cello. This very virtuosic opening leads to the entry of the piano which starts intensely, and then over a period of 2 or 3 minutes, the Duo goes through transformations that range from fiery, to lyrical, to expressive, to fervent, to intimate. The large colorful chords that permeate the piano part (owing to Oliver Messiaen) turn into little running passages, which are played in unison by the Duo. These running passages alternate several times, like panels on a screen, with a broader, lyrical music (owing something to Brahms).
The four or five episodes in this piece are diverse and distinct, each undertaking to explore particular musical aura. Though, in fleeting whispers or proclamations, the various subdivisions reminisce about one another, resulting in a labyrinth of interdependent connections (owing something to Berg). The music is integrated, harmonically consistent, and seeks to present the many colors of the two instruments.
The work has two optional endings. One ends at 9' 30", with the last wisp of the unison sweep, quietly creeping out at "ppp’" like a light disappearing over the horizon, very modestly and playfully. The other ending, at 11 minutes, takes the piece back to an introverted, solitary meditation, reminiscent of the opening cello cadenza, and leaves the piece fully resolved in a somber, patient, centered fashion. Leaving the two option endings was as a result of not knowing which ending the earlier Augusta would have preferred. So I leave it up the performances to decide.
Augusta Read Thomas