Christopher Trapani (1980)
North (2002 -2003)
- General information
2002 - 2003
- Duration: 6 mn 20 s
- Publisher: Inédit
- Composition date: 2002 - 2003
- Instrumental ensemble music [Triple wind orchestra (or larger)]
- piccolo, 2 flutes (also 1 flute), oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets [en ut] , 2 trombones, tuba, 1 percussionist, harp, mandolin, piano (also finger cymbals), 12 violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 8 cellos, 6 double basses
17 March 2004
Royaume-Uni, Londres, Royal College of Music
le RCM Sinfonietta, direction : Clement Power.
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.
North was conceived during a trip to Western Ireland in August 2002, at the tail end of the northernmost summer of my life–-three months split between Scandinavia, St. Petersburg, and the British Isles. Long stretches of coastline, at once beautiful and barren, sparked a desire to capture a simultaneous sense of lush tranquility combined with a stranger’s skeptical distance and unease. What sits beneath the north’s rugged, reticent, uninviting (at least to a southerner) exterior? A hidden pearl of warmth, or just empty ice? A guarded secret, or nothing at all?
This tension between a surface austerity and the core of beauty or ambivalence underneath is the subject of North. The piece’s fundamental materials are rigid in the extreme: an unwavering slow tempo from start to finish, regular repeated rhythms, a harmonic grid of six modes of six notes each that furnishes the work’s entire pitch content, from the registrally compartmentalized modes at the outset to the expansive senza vibrato string chords four minutes later. Though moment to moment the music is colorful, intricate, and inventive, its constrained palette ensures that large-scale events unfold at a decidedly slow pace bordering on aimlessness. Contradictory sensations of time are explored throughout, most simply on the local level by superimposing rapid fluttering gestures against sustained tones, but also in its overall trajectory; North could be considered a measured linear journey or a tautological recycling of a single idea, but refuses to answer the question decisively. The final two minutes of the piece deconstruct earlier moments; reminiscences drift by as unhitched percussive sounds intrude as the central pitch (E) asserts itself ever more forcefully, finally closing the piece on an inconclusive note: a sudden sparkling sound which becomes duller as it fades.
In addition to the Pynchon quote that appears at the head of the score, Seamus Heaney’s poem “North” also played a part in my work. Its three closing stanzas, the imagined advice of ‘ocean-deafened voices’ that the speaker hears along a northern coastline, provided a sort of mantra during a year spent in London that kept me motivated to
in the word-hoard, burrow
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.
Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.
Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.’