Christopher Trapani (1980)

Canaries in the Morning, Balloons at Night (2004)

for large ensemble with four solo violins

  • General information
    • Composition date: 2004
    • Duration: 9 mn 30 s
    • Publisher: Inédit
    • Commission: Orchestre symphonique de l'Acadiana pour son vingtième anniversaire
Detailed formation
  • soloist: 4 violins
  • piccolo, 2 flutes (also 1 piccolo), oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, 3 percussionists, harp, mandolin, celesta, piano, violin, second violin, viola, cello, double bass

Premiere information

  • Date: 25 September 2004

    États-Unis, Louisiana, Lafayette


    l'Orchestre symphonique de l'Acadiana, direction : Mariusz Smolij.

Program note

North and Canaries in the Morning, Balloons at Night were conceived as complementary portraits, opposite canvases of a diptych. Though the pieces may be performed separately, they are best understood when heard as a pair, since sonorities, details of orchestration, and formal contours are mirrored and cross-referenced between the two works. Together, they present a mappamondo of my life to the present, with various places I’ve lived and visited divided for the purposes of argument into “northern” and “southern” camps, then exploring the mentalities, prejudices, and associations of each.

Canaries in the Morning, Balloons at Night is a celebration of the south, in both a general sense as a world of sensuality and excess, and in the specific sense of the American South and the analogous “south” of Europe, the Mediterranean. The title is taken from the opening lines of Wallace Stevens’ “Academic Discourse at Havana,”a poem that discusses the role of the artist in a southern climate. How can a painter compete with the naturally bold colors of the tropics? Could a theatrical production be more entertaining than watching a crowded market or public square? Should art of the south express only the primal, elemental, and immanent, or is there a place for intellect and abstraction as well? Canaries in the Morning, Balloons at Night aims to answer these questions by being both straightforward and intricate, “in the moment” and also above it, maintaining a sly and carefree facade from start to finish.

The piece unfolds as a travelogue, a snapshot series of short episodes that visit various “southern” styles of music. There’s a New Orleans shuffle, some swing, bluegrass, blues, gypsy fiddling, klezmer, salsa, rock, a waltz, a North African modal dance, and some zydeco near the end, ushered in by a solo for the washboard. There are no actual quotations, but the piece plays with the clichés and riffs associated with these styles, often amplifying what are normally considered mundane aspects of the music (common riffs, horn hits, drum patterns) to the foreground. These stylistic episodes sometimes fade into one another, sometimes hinge on an abrupt shift of character; often they are linked with a crescendo, an emblem for overboiling excitement and a major motive of the piece. In fact, the basic musical materials of the piece are simple throughout – tonal melodies, major chords, stock progressions and cadences, repeated rhythms, familiar melodic tics. Towards the end of the piece, stylistic episodes are superimposed, fading in and out of the foreground as their function is called into question. Rising tension ultimately gives way to a crash in the bass, as a low fifth fades into the distance as its partials swirl into the treble – a return to an unmediated elemental sound.

Christopher Trapani.