Flores del Desierto (Desert Wildflowers) (1998)
This three-piece cycle was commissioned in March of 1998 by Janice Beck; the request was for a set of three concert tangos for organ in honor of Astor Piazzolla, a noted twentieth-century Argentinean composer who developed the tango in ways that incorporated European influences.
The title means “desert wildflowers,” and each piece is named after a type of desert or cactus flower. Albarda (or ocotillo) is a flamboyant plant with long, thorny, wand-like stems bearing clusters of waxy red-orange flowers. Each flower has five petals. Blooming times are usually synchronous with hummingbird migrations. The plant is striking by itself, but when it is visited by flocks of brightly colored hummingbirds, the effect of movement and color is extravagant. In this first piece of the set, an active theme drives a lively, quick tango with a marcato bass line. Punctuating rhythms in characteristic tango patterns are supplied by the left-hand part. There is a central, lyrical section based upon the inversion of the primary theme. The work concludes with the opening dance, which becomes increasingly embellished and ornamented. Espuelita (larkspur) is a deephued flower with intense blue sepals and a two-toothed spur of bronze or purple. Its appearance is both delicate and rich. The piece inspired by this flower is a slower, more lyrical tango based on a full-bodied chord progression and a flowing melodic motive. The work has elements of the chaconne, the tango, and the ornamented chorale prelude. The theme is serpentine and chromatic in nature, and it is further ornamented in its recapitulation. The “tone painting” evoked by the piece is intended to depict both the richness and the lazy delicacy of the espeulita.
Saiya (temaqui) flowers are showy orange blooms clustered above hand-shaped leaves. The five petals have reddish-brown spots at their bases and several stamens. Every part of the plant is edible, and the seed capsules are used as a coffee substitute. This final piece in the cycle is both a fugue and a tango.The subject is rhythmic, active, and virtuoso in nature, with a rising contour and driving sixteenths that swirl up to a high point. The work remains fugal for some time before loosening into a volcanic toccata. The subject is prevalent throughout the work in both original and transformed presentations.
Kairos is a Greek word which is often used to mean “the destined time.” Rollo May’s book, “The Cry for Myth,” contains an elegant exegesis of the Briar Rose fairy tale, which offers one of our culture’s more beautiful illustrations of kairos. When the hundred years of Briar Rose’s slumber had just passed, a prince approached unafraid and found that the thorn-hedge imprisoning the castle had become a mass of large and beautiful flowers. According to Rollo May’s commentary at this point, the prince “sensed the kairos, the moment when ‘all creation trembled and groaned.’ ” Kairos is a programmatic work that depicts a transformative time in the composer’s life that can be seen as parallel to the fairy tale in some symbolic ways; there is no literal correlation—just a figurative picture of a turbulent time and its eventual resolution.
Passacaglia on BACH (2004)
This work was commissioned by Faythe Freese, associate professor of organ at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Dr. Freese wanted a substantial piece that would spotlight athletic pedal passages. The BACH (B flat, A, C, B natural) theme is first stated in the recurring pedal ostinato motive that supports and generates the entire piece. The statement of the theme is followed by six variations that build in intensity and activity, culminating in a dynamic double-pedal solo. A fugue appears at an unexpected moment, and evolves into a seductive tango that escalates into driving chords and a second double-pedal passage. The concluding section is a powerful toccata in which the BACH motive appears with a countermelody and swirling manual passagework that provides the recurring harmonic progression in this segment. This piece was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2005.
Fantasy on the Name of Marilyn Keiser (2002)
This work was composed in honor of Marilyn Keiser’s twentieth anniversary as a faculty member at Indiana University. On January 18, 2003, Douglas Cleveland gave the world-premiere performance during a weekend of events held at Indiana University in tribute to Keiser. The spelling of the name “Marilyn Keiser” in musical notes was handled in the same system used by Maurice Duruflé for his Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain, whereby the alphabet letters A, B (B-flat in the European system), C, D, E, F, G, and H (B natural in the European system) represent themselves, and then subsequent letters are assigned to these notes, with the cycle repeating until the alphabet is exhausted; for instance, I=A, J=B, K=C, etc. In order to derive the theme that was eventually crystallized and developed, the E that would have stood for the letter “M” was omitted and then the “Y” was changed to B natural instead of A. The note G was inserted between first and last names to give the melody its high point, and then the last name was presented untouched.
The piece has an expansive introduction that can be played fortissimo on a tutti registration or softly on Celestes. The first highly developed section is a forceful toccata that presents the primary theme in the pedal part. At the center of the work is a lyrical, song-like segment based upon the inversion of the Marilyn Keiser theme. The gentle “song” evolves into a fugue on the original incarnation of the theme, and the toccata returns in a powerful concluding section.
Río abajo río (1999)
The result of a commission from the American Guild of Organists (AGO) for the 2000 National Convention of the AGO in Seattle, Washington, this three-work cycle wasworld premiered at St. Mark’s Cathedral by Christa Rakich. The commission was in honor of the memory of composer William Albright. The work consists of three pieces: Boliviana, Diferencias, and Fantasía. The first piece in the cycle is based on the hymn called “Venid, pastores,” the tune of which is a Puerto Rican melody. Boliviana refers to an Argentinean dancesong in which the first section is a lively 6/8 dance, the middle section is slower and more lyrical, and the final segment is a somewhat transformed and even more tempestuous repetition of the original lively dance. The second work, Diferencias, unfolds as a series of variations and transformations of the hymn “Hosanna en el cielo.” The composer of the modal, lyrical tune is not known. The final work in the cycle, Fantasía, is based essentially on original themes, with literal quotations and motivic derivations from the first and second movements. The form is a large, extended fantasy that contains a complete tango within its structure.