EVENING IN THE PALACE OF REASON


Movements:
I. Ricercare á 4 II. Canon III. Ricercare: Divertimento IV. Air on Two Themes of J.S.B. V. Counterpoint with Riddle and Jig

Instrumentation:
Solo string quartet, string orchestra

Duration: 24 minutes 30 seconds

Commissioned By:
Leonard, Street and Deinard for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in honor of Lowell Noteboom

Premiere:
February 22, 2008 by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan, conductor, at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts, Saint Paul, MN

Available From:
Libby Larsen Publishing

Composer's Notes:
In considering Mr. Noteboom’s zest for life and love of reason, I was struck with the idea to compose a musical portrait of Lowell Noteboom considering J.S. Bach. As I often do, I began my thinking by reading literature and discovered a book which became the impetus of my new piece.
 
Its title, Evening in the Palace of Reason, is taken from the title of a book by James R Gaines. (Harper Collins, New York, 2005). The book is centered on the meeting of Frederick the Great and Johann Sebastian Bach. I quote the blurb on the back of the book for you:
 
Johann Sebastian Bach created what may be the most celestial and profound body of music in history; Frederick the Great built the colossus we now know as Germany and along with it a template for modern warfare. Their fleeting encounter in 1747 signals a unique moment in history where belief collided with the cold certainty of reason. Set at the tipping point between the ancient and modern world, Evening in the Palace of Reason captures the tumult of the 18th century, the legacy of the Reformation, and the birth of the Enlightenment in this tale of two men.”
 
My interest lies in the story, a story which lies at the crossroads of the Age of Reason and the Romantic Era or, musically speaking, the crossroads of music that values reason and prefers discipline, order and control and music that values feeling and prefers passion, individuality, and spontaneity.
 
Frederick the Great challenged Bach to improvise a six voice fugue on a theme which “he” composed. Actually, Gaines posits that as Fredericks court composer, C.P.E. Bach composed the theme perhaps having something to prove to his father. It did indeed trip up his father who, on the spot, could only improvise the theme into three-voice contrapuntal pieces. Bach left the palace to return to Leipzig, where he transformed the theme into his multi-movement masterpiece, The Musical Offering.
 
Evening in the Palace of Reason is composed for the strings of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, singling out the first chair players to form a string quartet that dialogues with the string orchestra throughout each movement. I’ve woven the famous and dastardly theme into the fabric of the entire piece, sometimes in ways that are evident, sometimes in very subtle ways. I want to pay homage to J.S. Bach while placing both his and Frederick the Great’s musical language preferences in the ever morphing continuum of pitch, harmony, and texture. And so within the context of my own musical ear, I explore counterpoint, fantasy, monophonic and polyphonic texture, and in general, music governed by reason versus music governed by emotion.
 
— Libby Larsen, December 2007
 
To listen to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's performance, click this link.



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