Enchanted Light (Concerto for Vibraphone, Mvt. II)

After months (well... really a couple of years) bleeding inspiration all over my manuscript paper, the Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Ensemble commission is complete! When I finished the first movement, I mentioned some of the inspiration behind the piece, but I'd like to go into a bit more depth here about it.

One of my favorite sources of inspiration for my compositions is poetry – especially that of Pablo Neruda. It's so passionate and filled with vivid imagery that it's just a blast to try and portray his words with music. I knew from the outset that Lisa Rogers (the commissioning party) wanted a 2-movement concerto, so I decided to try and find two poems with opposing themes and stumbled upon Neruda's collection "Ode to Opposites." I chose "Ode to Nighttime" and "Ode to Enchanted Light" which pit night against day.

I. Night's Song

Ode to Nighttime by Pablo Neruda
(I. Night’s Song – “El Canto de la Noche”)

behind every tree and rock,
behind every book,
you rush around working
or you rest,
for your retracted roots
to grow into foliage or flower.
You thrash around the sky
a flag,
you pour yourself into
sierras and seas
and the smallest cavities, too:
the exhausted peasant’s hardened
and the black coral
of people’s mouths
opened wide in sleep.
You run wild
over the savage flow
of rivers,
you penetrate, night, hidden paths
and love’s deep constellations—
tangle of naked bodies—
and crimes that splatter
the shadows with screams.
All the while trains
stay on schedule, stokers
feed night-black coal to red fire.
The overworked accountant
wanders deep in a forest
of petrified papers,
and bakers knead
mounds of whiteness.
Night also sleeps
like a blind horse.
It’s raining all over the country:
on the huge trees
of my homeland
and on roofs
of corrugated metal
night’s song
is heard.
Rain and darkness are the blade
of a singing sword
while stars, or jasmine petals,
from blackened heights:
they are signs
that, little by little,
with time’s slow passage,
we will come to understand.

my nighttime,
night of the whole earth,
you bear something
within you, something round
like a child
about to be born, like a
it’s a miracle,
it’s daylight.
Your beauty is all the greater
because you nourish this budding poppy
with the darkness that flows in your veins,
because you work with your eyes closed
so that other eyes may open
and the water may sing,
so that our lives
might be born again.

For the first movement, Night’s Song, I tried to depict this mysterious, starry night that gradually turns dark and rainy. The phrases that really spoke to me and shaped the music were “behind daylight,” “you thrash around the sky,” “you run wild over the savage flow of rivers,” and rain and darkness are the blade of a singing sword while stars, or jasmine petals, gaze from blackened heights.” I love how Neruda describes daylight as being born nighttime, so I decided to make the movements attacca so that the second movement, Enchanted Light, bursts forth out of the first movement.

II. Enchanted Light

Ode to Enchanted Light by Pablo Neruda
(II. Enchanted Light – “La Luz Encantada”)

Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
like a green
latticework of branches,
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
white sand.
A cicada sends its sawing song
high into the empty air.
The world is
a glass overflowing
with water.

The second movement is much more sparkly and bright, depicting the “light dropping from the top of the sky.” The “cicada sending its sawing song high into the empty air” even makes an appearance when the ensemble vibraphone player places pennies on the bars and then bows those bars with optional help from a sizzle cymbal. Motives and themes from the first movement return in several spots throughout the second movement helping to unify the work. The soloist gets a workout as well in the tour-de-force second movement, unlike the much more introspective first movement.

The piece will be performed in its entirety at the International Society for Music Education (ISME) Conference in Beijing, China in August 2010 by the Texas Tech University Percussion Ensemble, directed by Allan Shin, with Dr. Lisa Rogers as the vibraphone soloist. I will be using the first movement on a clinic I'll be giving at the Idaho State University Day of Percussion next weekend.

The piano reduction is complete and wind ensemble and full orchestra versions will be completed by this summer.