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These Violent Delights

for orchestra

//  Duration: 10'
//  Date: 2017
//  Instrumentation: 3333, 4431, timp, 3 perc, harp, pno, strings
//  First reading: April 10, 2017, Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Joshua Gersen, conductor

Conductor: Joshua Gersen
Recorded at the Curtis Institute of Music

Recording engineer: Drew Schlegel

These Violent Delights (2017), like its name implies, is full of violent contrasts, both in the way it sounds and circumstances under which it was produced. Written as partial fulfillment of my doctoral dissertation project at the University of Pennsylvania, this ten-minute piece for orchestra is a kaleidoscopic mixture of sensuality and spirituality, brashness and delicacy, rage and delight.

As perhaps a dissertation project should, These Violent Delights serves as both a summary of my previous work and a marker indicating new directions in my musical practice. Beginning with my chamber orchestra piece Signal to Noise (2012), and continuing to other works such as Night the Obscure (2014), Mirroring Sky (2014), and Entanglements (2015), I have explored cyclic composition forms, inspired equally by Western theme-and-variations forms as well as the expandable-frame cyclic forms of Indonesia gamelan music. TVD includes a quasi-tonal cyclic melody, heard most clearly at climactic points, that repeats many times throughout the piece in two different versions (a “Major” and a “Minor” version). Each repeat is stretched or compressed in time from its initial iteration and treated to numerous transformations of “key”, texture, timbre, orchestration, and harmony. The order in which these transformed cycles appear was based on Western sonata form. If you track it closely, you will hear what resemble “Primary” and “Second” themes of an Exposition, a Development section that explores new sounds, and a compressed Recapitulation followed by an intense Coda. 

Augmenting this quasi-cyclic, quasi-sonata form piece are two very slow, lyrical sections—one just after the Development, and one at the end. The material for these sections was drawn from on ongoing opera project, The Minor Passion, and includes some of its most poignant and wrenchingly-emotional music. I regard this as some of the most personally-revealing music I’ve ever written. 

It’s a tenuous proposition to link the aesthetics of a piece of art with the immediate personal and political circumstances of the artist during the time of its creation. Pointing to specific moments of a musical composition and saying, for instance, “That augmented chord in bar 78 there represents her disenchantment with Stalin!”  seems laughable from the composer’s perspective. That chord could very well come from her disenchantment with Stalin, but it also could be a chord she just likes, one that fits the counterpoint surrounding it, a happenstance of some precompositional process, or all of these at once.


That said, I will admit that personal and political circumstances at the time I was doing the bulk of the work on These Violent Delights did have a direct impact on its overall sound. In November of 2016, when the piece was in full swing, the United States elected a dangerous megalomaniac into its position of greatest power. The anger, frustration, and fear this election both caused and was a metaphor for filtered into my writing. I had originally planned for the fast sections of TVD to form intricately contrapuntal webs; after the election, those webs became dense clouds of sound that flood the fast music with frustration, fury, and darkness. I can only hope that as the slower, spiritual sections of the piece provide a ray of hope, we too can find hope in dark times. 

These Violent Delights was first read and workshopped by the Curtis Institute of Music Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Joshua Gersen in April 2017.


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