Tower’s second string quartet In
Memory, originally planned as
a tribute to a recently deceased friend,
turned-out to be the composer’s reaction
to the events of September 11, 2002
which happened about one month after
she had started work on the piece. Thus,
the music has a deeply-felt elegiac
tone, at times disrupted by fits of
anger and revolt. The whole piece, is
essentially a tensely lyrical threnody
cast in Tower’s mildly dissonant idiom,
sometimes redolent of Bartók.
The slightly earlier
piano trio Big Sky is
a quite different proposition. This
is Tower in her outdoor mood suggesting
a big landscape, "a Montana-like
sky and maybe a lone wild stallion roaming
freely ..." (the composer’s words).
The music alternates rapt, meditative
episodes and more animated sections,
in the form of a tone poem. This is
"The Big Country" in chamber
format although the music is not overtly
is a free fantasy for solo viola, in
which the composer exploits the various
facets of the instrument’s tonal range,
sometimes in a virtuosic manner.
The four piano pieces
published collectively as No Longer
Very Clear, written between
1994 and 2000, are all indirectly inspired
by John Asbury’s eponymous poem. Each
piece has a title drawn from lines of
that poem. The music reflects moods
and impressions suggested by the words.
Thus, Or Like a...an Engine (1994)
is a nervous Toccata, and so is the
fourth piece Throbbing Still
(2000), whereas Holding a Daisy
(1996) and Vast Antique Cubes (2000)
are mostly more meditative in character.
for oboe and string quartet (although
there exist versions for oboe and strings
as well as for oboe and woodwinds) is
a companion piece to Tower’s earlier
orchestral work Island Rhythms
(1985). The composer "tried for
something with love and sensuousness"
and, accordingly "thought of the
setting as a tropical island somewhere
in the Bahamas", although the Caribbean
element is less prominent in the chamber
work than in the orchestral piece.
Tower’s music is clearly
of its time, closer to Bartók
and Stravinsky than to Copland, and
it is always colourful, well-crafted
and immensely accessible. These excellent
performances by a handful of fine musicians
serve it well. I now hope that a forthcoming
release in Naxos American Classics
will showcase her orchestral music.
For now we have this well-planned release
offering an introduction to Joan Tower’s