I have wanted for some time to make a transcription for chamber ensemble of some portion of my Mottetti di Montale
, a song cycle for mezzo-soprano and piano which I composed in the late seventies. Though I have not been disappointed in the frequency or quality of performances of this fifty-minute cycle, the chamber ensemble concert is a more established part of our musical life than the vocal recital. This is music that is close to my heart and I decided, as I did with my Mirabai Songs
, to forego what one writer aptly described as the "keen partnership of the pianist," in the interest of wider availability.
I first thought of making a selection of the songs which yielded best to transference away from the keyboard. But the harmonic and dramatic ordering of the cycle resisted such a selection, and I chose instead to present the last eight songs in their original sequence. The New York Philomusica, which commissioned (the title of the chamber ensemble version) offered its core complement of instruments. Since I knew the piece would need a conductor, I decided to press the keyboard player into service. There were two good reasons for this: first, an arrangement from a keyboard original at least needs a keyboard. Second, I could thus entrust the piece to one of my most trusted and esteemed colleagues, the Philomusica's Robert Levin. Here the project turns full circle, for it was for him and Christine Whittlesy that the first of the Montale songs were composed back in 1976.