Three Tropes

Premiere: 22 April 2006 at the Boston Conservatory, Boston, MA. Mary McClelland, clarinet

Duration: ca. 8′

Instrumentation: solo clarinet

Score: View score

Performance Note: Like Ives, I have been exposed in formative ways – and from an early age – to Protestant hymnody. I grew up hearing (and singing) everything from the classics of Watts, Cowper, Wesley, and Crosby to the (sometimes) delightfully anachronistic meddlings of James McGranahan, Homer Rodeheaver, and Mrs. C. H. Morris, as well as much that falls somewhere in between – qualitatively, at least. These simple melodies (for there is nothing simple or innocuous about a Wesley or a Cowper hymn text) have become a part of my subconscious; oftentimes I have found myself humming snatches of hymns and gospel songs in unexpected places (airports, subways, and classrooms, to name a few). However, they have rarely figured prominently in my concert output. These Tropes are perhaps an attempt at beginning to address that unfortunate neglect.

There are three movements involved in these Tropes (hence the title), each of which can be easily described as an elaboration of a different aspect of a given tune. The first is derived from the hymn tune WEBB (“Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”), which itself is one of the melodies that figures prominently in the music of Charles Ives. Here the tune is distorted and treated to some Bartok-ian chromatic displacement and sequential development; the final twist at the end comes as a surprise.

The second Trope is a meditation on the hymn tune LEONI (“The God of Abraham Praise”), which itself is an arrangement, by Meyer Lyon, of a Jewish synagogue melody. The clarinet intones and then rhapsodizes on the opening five notes of the hymn; this spacious atmosphere is alternated with a Hassidic-like second section, which appears first in a rather complementary fashion, though the contrasts gradually become more pronounced.

The final Trope is essentially a descant on the hymn tune MARTYN (“Jesus, Lover of My Soul”). The clarinet opens with a soaring lyrical melody that is contrasted by an angular chromatic motive; the two themes alternate in a series of subtle variations until the final statement of the languorous opening material.