Solitary Discourse was recorded in July of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which sidelined musical collaborations around the globe. Given the necessity of performing alone, if I was going to perform at all, I recorded an album of unaccompanied music that features five distinct approaches to how humans can maintain meaningful creativity while alone. J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Violin have been admired for centuries for many reasons, especially the degree to which they contain such inventive harmony and counterpoint on a single melodic instrument. Andre Myers’ Soliloquies for Solo Oboe are inspired by Shakespeare’s monologues from Hamlet, Robert Bly’s poetry, and the visions that occur while dreaming. Michael Slon’s “Reflection” was directly inspired by (and a response to) the experiences of isolation during the pandemic. Laura Schwendinger’s Far Over the Misty Mountains depicts actively experiencing nature while walking alone. My own composition, Two Facebook Posts, explores the positive and negative emotional impacts of time spent using social media. Hopefully, these creative processes depict ways in which all of us are learning to navigate an unusual time of social distancing.
Notes on J.S. Bach’s Partita for Violin No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004, arr. by Aaron Hill
Scholars have written extensively about the significance and influence of JS Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Violin. Movements from these masterpieces have been adapted and performed on every instrument imaginable, from Brahms’ version of the Chaconne for left hand piano to recent versions for saxophone choir, trombone choir, full orchestra, and electric bass, among others. In order to facilitate this work to fit the oboe’s range, it has been transposed up one whole step to E Minor with a small handful of octave displacements. The Sarabande and Chaconne feature many double, triple, and quadruple stops in the original violin version, which are treated either as upward or downward grace notes in the oboe version, depending on which voice carries the primary melody in any given moment.
Notes from Andre Myers on Soliloquies for Solo Oboe
Movement One is a loose musical illustration of the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from Act
III, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I had an internal sense of the iambs while composing, and, while there is no overt iambic rhythm in the music, a sense of escalating dramatic motion was important to me in the opening bars. Movement Two is a setting of the last utterances of
Ophelia in Hamlet Act IV, Scene 5. It is a setting of her disharmony, the sing-songy parts of the piece meant to mimic the songs she rambles through in her final moments onstage. Movement Three is a setting of "In the Month of May,” a poem by Robert Bly. The music strives to depict the spirit of the poetry, which has long moved me. In the last movement, I was playing with a
simple idea of young centaurs frolicking in a wood. While technically demanding, the piece is
meant to sound fun and free. Soliloquies for Solo Oboe is dedicated, with great affection, to my friend Aaron Solomon Hill.
Notes from Michael Slon on “Reflection” (from Corona Miniatures)
“Reflection" comes from a set of several short works (Corona Miniatures) written during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic for friends in the music world. Set for solo oboe, it's written for Aaron Hill, one of the most musical artists I’ve encountered (on any instrument), and a treasured friend. Cast in ABA’ form, the piece opens with a slow, reflective section crafted from the lyricism and implied harmonies of larger interval leaps. A contrasting middle section works to develop two strata, a melody and harmonic accompaniment, before the piece returns to a modified A’ coda, in a sense “reflected” across the middle from the opening. I’m grateful to Aaron for his generous input in finalizing the score.
Notes from Laura Schwendinger on Far Over the Misty Mountains
Far Over the Misty Mountains was written for and premiered in Valencia, Spain by Juan Pechuán Ramírez, principal oboist of the Deutsche Oper Berlin . The work evokes the misty mountaintops of the alps above Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where Juan and I were on faculty at the Talis Festival in 2017. During those days, Juan would climb the mountains, including the Dom, a mountain of the Pennine Alps, located between Randa and Saas-Fee in the Canton of Valais, before the rest of us arrived at breakfast. With its 4,545 meter summit, it is the third highest mountain in the Alps and the second highest in Switzerland, after Monte Rosa. The stunning landscape of that place left a deep impression on me, and this work is my response to that experience, with the oboe, like an alpine horn, singing into its highest registers. The fabulous oboist Aaron Hill gave the work its US premiere and Keri E. McCarthy, Professor at Washington State University, performed the work during the 2018 FOCAM Festival.
Notes on Two Facebook Posts
These two pieces are reflections on the negative and positive feelings that can happen so often in response to patterns on social media. They are originally intended for solo oboe, but they could easily be borrowed for performance on other instruments. Each piece can stand on its own if the performer prefers to play only one of them.
“After Manchester” is a transcription of a free improvisation I performed on May 24th, 2017 and posted on Facebook and YouTube. Two days prior to the performance, 23 people were killed and 139 more were injured in a violent attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. More than half of the victims were children. Rather than offering words of public grieving, I chose to grieve musically by expressing my sadness and anger in an abstract form.
“For Delmar” was composed as a tribute to Delmar Williams and premiered at an International Double Reed Society evening recital at the University of South Florida on July 17th, 2019. Delmar has made significant contributions to the oboe and bassoon community through his aggregation of radio broadcasts, streamed performances, and notifications of public events happening all over the globe. Oboists are now more likely than ever to have heard and been positively influenced by oboe playing from several traditions and countries, and Delmar’s constant promotion of a friendly, supportive community has been crucial in cultivating that progress, making him a prime example of the best social media has to offer. The piece itself is a simple theme and variations. The theme is a transcription of a folk-style tune I improvised based on the rhythmic feel of saying Delmar Williams’ name. I later discovered that the end of the theme has a striking resemblance to the title song of Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon,” but I chose to keep the improvisation as it was.