Elegy for a Singer

String orchestra–8′

A songful tribute to a beloved conductor sketched in glowing string colors with harp and celesta highlights. Premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra.

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Elegy for a Singer

String orchestra, celesta, harp
Duration: 8′
Premiere: Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue, cond., 9/1997
Performance materials on request. Contact DET

Program Note

Elegy for a Singer is a brief, straightforward work for strings, harp and celesta in ternary form. After a series of queries and sighs, a broad melody unfolds over sustained harmonies in D-flat major (a key with a particular cast, exploited famously by Mahler and Tchaikovsky). A gentle refrain leads to an airier middle section, then a statement of the main idea by the most delicate instruments of the orchestra—harp and celesta—against gleaming diatonic clusters. After an expansive climax, the refrain returns to quiet the work. The “singer” is not a singer at all, but a conductor: John P. Paynter, faculty at Northwestern University for 43 years until his death in 1996.

quotation marksThis is the kind of piece that should convince average concertgoers that it’s safe to go back in the water. A piece unmistakably of its own day, and yet in a triad-based tonal language that’s unafraid of major chords, it glowed with a radiant beauty.  –Seth Williamson, Roanoke Times

quotation marksThe strings sing a rich, winding melody that goes through several permutations., followed by a contrasting section and a return to the opening melody, but this time slightly altered and more passionately stated. The overall form is clear-cut and simple, but the piece carries a considerable emotional weight—it sounds in places like a Mahler adagio—and its string writing is skillful. –Michael Anthony, Minneapolis Star Tribune.

For another, more exuberant work for strings, see Rocket.


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