On Love (2016) is a peculiar take on the radio soap-opera genre. It is in three movements and features two distinct superimposed layers. The "music" layer, performed by the instruments and the soprano, constitutes an idiosyncratic re-imagination of William Byrd’s masses. The second layer (that remains "tacet" until the beginning of the second movement) is performed by the actors and could be described as "speech-music". The material employed to compose this second layer is every sentence in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that features the word “love” plus fragments of two soliloquies: Juliet's in the balcony (act 2, scene 2) and Romeo's at the grave (act 5, scene 3)
0''-Prelude. 6'16' -"I Will Confess To You". 10'27' -"Thou Love Me?" Filmed Live. May 20, 2016. Logan Center Performance Hall at the University of Chicago. Personnel: Cruz Gonzalez Cadel and Paloma Nozicka, actors. Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, soprano. Tim Munro, flutes. Michael Maccaferri, clarinets. Doug Perkins, percussion. Lisa Kaplan, piano. Ben Melsky, harp. Austin Wulliman and Clara Lyon, violins, Rose Armbrust, viola, Nicholas Photinos, cello. Cliff Colnot, conductor.
Excerpts from the dissertation defense presentation
On Love is a triptych for two actors, singer and ensemble based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Besides the actors and the singer, the performing forces include flute, clarinet, percussion, harp, piano and string quartet. The premiere was conducted by Cliff Colnot and it took place on the second Tomorrow’s Music Today concert at the Logan Center’s Performance Hall on May 20, 2016. The piece is divided in three movements (Prelude, I will confess, and Thou love me?) and lasts around 17 minutes.
The text alternates between the two actors and is devised using almost every sentence in Romeo and Juliet that features the word “love”, plus fragments of two soliloquies: Juliet's in the balcony (act 2, scene 2) and Romeo's at the grave (act 5, scene 3). Music and text behave for the most part as independent streams. The only instance of willful word-painting takes place towards the end of the second movement where to the actor’s declamation “…at lover’s perjuries they say Jove laughs” (Jove being one of Jupiter’s names), the ensemble responds with an extended passage of an Ab major chord in second inversion.
On the other hand, even when text and music function independently, they are related beyond occasionally coexisting in time. Both were developed using the techniques that have been at the core of my work over the last couple of years. To put it in general terms, these techniques involve the interaction of processual and algorithmic strategies combined with a somewhat hazy motivic and sound object rhetoric.
Similar to the superimposition of music and text, the script of On Love is itself designed in layers. The first background layer is the product of a rather strict permutational circulation of four successive “pillar” sentences. These structural bits of text are “I am sure that you love me” “I have bought the mansion of a love” “Dost thou love me?” and, “And they dream of love”. Each of these four sentences is spun permutationally to achieve the kaleidoscope of words that acts as the backbone of the script.
The material of the second layer of text is the remaining fragments in Romeo and Juliet that feature the word “love”. The treatment of this second layer was of course conditioned by the presence of the first “background” layer, but was otherwise not regulated internally by an outside algorithm. The changing configurations of the four pillar fragments of the first layer suggested different possibilities for continuation at different times. Within these constrains, the assemblage of the final script was fairly intuitive. Having the two bodies of text, layers one and two, decisions depended upon subjective criteria such as “good continuation”, mood, and musical or dramatic effect.
The two aforementioned larger portions of soliloquy suppose a third constructive layer that is superimposed over the two-layered stream of speech just described. Each of these two soliloquies is treated differently. The first one, Juliet’s in the balcony, is left almost unaltered besides being interjected a few times by the somewhat annoying intrusion of the question “Dost thou love me?”. The second larger portion of soliloquy, Romeo’s at the Capulet’s crypt, emerges halfway through the third movement mixed into the stream of text, braided together with permutations of the sentence “And they dream of love” and fragments from Act 1.
The backbone of the music in On Love is a cantus firmus that lasts approximately 14 minutes. The making of this cantus firmus and its ensuing orchestration was operated under the same technical ethos of the text, that is: generating material through fairly strict algorithmic strategies to then interact with the result in a less scripted way.
This extended melody was composed by successively layering technical moves on both pitch and rhythm. I had already employed this approach in a number of works of mine starting with Tres Decals but also including After L’Addio / Felt (for solo harp), One Baroque (for harp and guitar) and Decals II (my second string quartet) all works that immediately preceded the composition of my dissertation.
The orchestration of the cantus firmus responds to a similar tactic but, different from pitch and rhythm, it will change between movements. In the instrumental Prelude, the cantus firmus “hoquets” between the seven instruments in the ensemble that can perform a sustained pitch (flute, clarinet, soprano and the strings). This hoquet is then treated through a rather fixed “orchestrational” algorithm.