Strata–A Suite for Wind Ensemble (1999) for Rutgers Wind Ensemble and William Berz, in four movements
In late November of 1996, Dr. William Berz, conductor of the Rutgers University Wind Ensemble approached me about writing a brief fanfare for the group. I sketched the piece in a weekend and scored it in the ensuing two week period; shortly thereafter, it was performed and recorded.
Sometime later, it occurred to me that the piece could be extended into a multi-movement suite. The basic ideas that permeated the completed first movement involved a kind of layering of material with as much registral distancing as possible to create a clean texture and to make the music more open to the ear. This was the origin for the title, Strata.
Movement I, “Fanfare”, begins with the basic impulse for the movement, a sixteenth-note pick-up to a rising whole-step, which is expressed in accumulating layers, and later becomes the source for whole-tone scale fragments. A repeating chorale-like phrase in the lower brass and woodwinds, accompanied by extended whole-tone scales in winds and mallets, initiates the climax of the movement. The rich fabric becomes subservient to interjections of the opening fanfare gesture and builds to a modified recapitulation.
Movement IV, “Festivus”, was written next and carries much of the musical weight and substance of the work. There is great economy of material, most of which is generated by the initial grand gestures led by the brass. A central fugato also springs from this opening music. Interspersed throughout the movement are episodes of “klangfarben”, which are built from the interval content of the seminal material already presented. The rather lengthy fugato is accompanied by a sixteenth-note ostinato in upper winds and mallets and is directly related to the brass opening. The fugato is interrupted at its height, by a homophonic statement by the entire ensemble, first in a single line and then in a huge two-voice version. Reminiscences of the previous music lead to a rollicking coda with all forces participating.
Movement II, “Fables” followed and was intended to be reflective and almost retrospective in nature. The same layering of material is used, but there are, to my ear, moments of nineteenth century, perhaps Mahlerian, sounds. The thematic core of the movement is a richly harmonized chorale, making its first appearance as the music begins, first with its intervallic essence alone in baritone and tuba and then fully completed with the remaining conical brass. It is immediately interrupted by a single-line idea in woodwinds, which makes use of continuous eighth-notes and later generates a substantive fugato. These two basic and interrelated ideas play off of each other as the movement unfolds, and in the last presentation are even heard together, before the sublime chorale ends the movement with one last fleeting movement of the dissonance which is at once connected to and at odds with the chorale.
The last movement to be completed was the third, “Fripperies.” As the subtitle suggests it is to sound as if it is tossed off easily and lightly, in the manner of a scherzo. This does not take into account the substantial technical difficulties and rhythmic intricacies. There are two basic thematic premises, an opening “piling-up” of major third combinations from the brass, which later generates a wide-ranging romp in the horns and elsewhere, and secondly a chromatically reptilian pattern presented by woodwinds in unison, and later, octave doublings.
The work is recorded on Mark CD. Contact the composer at firstname.lastname@example.org