Image and Motion: A Choral Symphony

The title Image and Motion, which only came to me late in the composing process, is both a succinct summation of the work as well as a description of the work's genesis. The initial impulse came in a rather roundabout way: when a friend showed me two of Bravig Imbs' poems (All Was in Flight and Sleep) with the comment “These seem like you”, the images in both poems drew me in immediately. It wasn't clear when I started (1997) that so much of the piece would be about the images. I only knew that Imbs' haunting and sometime too-precious language was appealing and inspiring. The title for the piece only occurred as I was working on the last movement (in 2001).

A work that is symphonic in scope allows for the exploration of large-scale contrasts. To me, the texts all suggested motion rather than stasis, and I have used different kinds of motion in the different movements. Both Scherzos have a kind of headlong, breathless rushing. Fantasy is more languorous; the slow turning of a large kaleidoscope. Finale is an elegant, measured journey toward the final bars in the piece.

Tagging the work as A Choral Symphony refers to my use of the formal aspects of that tradition: the piece has four movements, includes a scherzo, a kind of sonata-form movement and variations on a ground. However these elements are juxtaposed, altered and deconstructed: there are two scherzos, and one of them is in the “wrong” place (the first movement); Fantasy explores curious side streets and alleys more often than it adheres to the expected sonata plan; the variations of the Finale are sometimes interrupted or elided, resulting in a more seamless whole than what one usually expects in the variation form.

One other aspect of the piece deserves mention: the integration of the voices with the instruments. While there are passages where I clearly present the text, there are other times where the chorus is treated as another instrumental resource, using spoken as well as sung sounds. Intensifying this use of the chorus as pure sound; there are also some passages where the “text” is simple phonemes.