Listen: I. Flow

Listen: II. Drift

Performed By: James Dunham, viola and Jeanne Fischer, piano

I. Flow II. Drift III. Breathless

Viola, piano

Duration: 19 minutes

July 7, 2001 by James Dunham, viola, and Judith Gordon, piano, at the Aspen Music Festival, Aspen, CO

Available From:
Oxford University Press, distributed by Goodmusic Publishing

Composer's Notes:

This program note is based on an interview with the composer published by Stradmagazine.

James Dunham and I met while I was working on a commission for the Cleveland String Quartet. We liked each other’s energy and had compatible views about music. I was dazzled by his musicianship and his genial and generous ways. I knew right away that I wanted to compose a viola sonata for him. In fact, the sonata came into my head almost full blown right after I met him.

Composing for viola is a particularly rewarding endeavor. Its mid-range lyricism and quiet ways demand a sensitive ear, especially to dynamics. I tend to think in bolder strokes, dynamically speaking. I found that I had to calm my ears down for this work, composing more subtle gestures which are, at the same time, bold. It was James’s playing and musicianship that brought the piece into my head. James has a gift for the supported lyric line—he is able to support a lyric line with deep and strong rhythm, while at the same time never letting you know that.

The work is in three movements. I adopted the formality of the sonata much in the same way an architect accepts the shell of a building and rehabilitates the interior. I often draw influences from extra-musical influence. However, this work is about viola and piano, nothing more, nothing less. It seems that when I compose for strings, as in my String Symphony, I focus on the quality of the instrument for its purely communicative powers, leaving any extra-musical interpretation to the listener. As I continue to compose for strings and orchestra, I find that I am focusing less and less on percussion, as was the trend of orchestral music of the 1900s, and more and more on the strings for their infinitely breathing and lyrical qualities. We are a world in search of our own lyrical voice—strings contain the universal within their evolved construction, performance technique, and repertoire.

— Libby Larsen

A recording is available for purchase with the album, Circle of Friends, or seperately:

Score Errata:
First movement
m. 15, end of 2nd beat, viola: should be A flat (not natural)
m. 61, first note, viola: should be C natural (not B)
m. 73, last C, viola: should be a half note
m. 81, last beat, piano LH: should be Eb, Db, C, Bb
m. 84, RH piano: the B at the bottom of the chord at the downbeat of the measure should be a C; the E in the downbeat of the third beat should be an F
m. 93, tempo should be 80-84, not 108
m. 98, viola: articulation should be the same as m. 100
m. 114, viola: the two separate 16ths should be up an octave creating three octaves of A in that bar
m. 119, piano: third beat should be E D C A in both hands

Second movement
m. 22, viola: dim into the 6/4 bar, then p dim to pp.
m. 34, viola: triplet should be D-G flat-D
m. 48, no rall.

Third movement
m. 22, tutti: should be played twice: 1x f, 2x p
m. 30, piano: right hand, second beat, final sixteenth should be C-sharp on the bottom
m. 59, viola: tremolo D, tremolo C, then double notes on the 16ths in the 3rd & 4th beats. Also, the last note of the bar is an E.
m. 60, viola: Back to single notes.
m. 62, tutti: quasi Tempo 1 "I allow the figure at the end of m. 59 to tug me back a bit in tempo so that m. 60 is quasi Pesante and then again at m. 62 I resist the tempo just a bit more, bringing it back more or less to the opening tempo."
m. 62-63, piano: should be bass clef
m. 82, viola: 2nd beat should be G/B flat
m. 85 and m. 99, viola: third beat should be naturals (D-B)
m. 89, viola: last note is an F natural
m. 99, viola: second beat should be B-flat and third B-natural
m. 141, piano: second chord should have a D on the bottom, rather than C