It all began with the book, Pontius Pilate, a Biographical Novel, by Paul L. Maier. I read this book sometime in the late 1970’s and conceived the idea of a chamber opera based on the wife of Pilate as she was presented in the book. The book has over 20 pages of footnotes as well as a four-page chapter entitled “Historical Note;” thus it is historically accurate. Although I am not using any of the dialogue in the book, my “take” in the opera on the character of Procula, Pilate’s wife, is grounded in her character as presented in the book. (Side note: I wanted to put “inspired by Pontius Pilate by Paul L. Maier” under the title of the opera so I wrote to him and he very graciously gave me permission.)
Over the next 25 or 30 years I would occasionally work on a synopsis of the opera, a possible stage setting, the number of characters, the size of the orchestra, possible use of a chorus, all without writing a note. Sometimes I would spend considerable time with the idea and then neglect it for months, even years, but I never totally forgot about it. (Two other books I used in research were The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Edersheim and The Temple also by Edersheim. I also studied a number of “Mad scenes” from operas such as Lucia di Lammermoor.
In 2008 I hit a milestone (I won’t say exactly what that milestone was) that caused me to get even more serious about my composing career. In the next year or two I realized if I was ever going to write my chamber opera, I had better begin. So in the spring of 2010 I programmed the “Nightmare” aria for a Women in Music – Columbus Member Musicale the following spring.
I chose that aria and scene because it would be the centerpiece of the opera. The only Biblical reference to Pilate’s wife is one verse in the gospel of Matthew (I am quoting from the Contemporary English Version known as the CEV), “While Pilate was judging the case, his wife sent him a message. It said, ‘Don’t have anything to do with this innocent man. I have had nightmares because of him.’” The scene and aria were performed March 13, 2011 with myself, soprano, as Procula, Jan Nelson, mezzo soprano as her Jewish maid, Deborah, and Laura Benson, piano. Here is the ending of that scene. (I had been studying some of Messiaen’s music and had become enamoured with diminished octaves which you hear a lot of in this section.) Also this scene calls for an off-stage spoken chorus. I enlisted a few people from my church choir to help me record the crowd scene. They don’t quite give the effect of a big crowd, but you can get an idea. Click on the play button below to listen to a sample.
Currently the work is only scored for vocals with piano accompaniment. However, I will eventually be scoring it for chamber orchestra: Single winds, trumpet, horn, harp, cymbals, snare drum, bass drum, tambourine and a small group of strings.
This eclectic collection contains songs in traditional, contemporary Christian, and gospel styles. Indices included, in addition to the Table of Contents, are alphabetical, topical and Scriptural. There is also a page showing the range of each of the songs.
Five of my students “commissioned” the seven pieces that are in this collection. Each student chose the title, the character, sometimes even the time signatures and articulation. I sought to tailor the works to the students’ abilities. The process led to the title, ‘By Request.”
The “Conflict” of the title refers to separate conflicts between the first violins and the doublebasses and the second violins and the violas. The cellos represent the reconciling force. The short work opens with dissonant chords from the conflicting groups from which rise fragments of the “Reconciliation” theme in the cellos. Then the violin/bass conflict begins, followed quickly by the violin/viola conflict. The cellos seek to interject portions of their theme. Gradually the cellos lead the other groups to a unison sounding of the reconciliation theme. The first violins repeat this theme with the other groups providing a more consonant harmonic background. However, conflict breaks out once more. Again the cellos seek to reconcile the conflicting groups. The cellos succeed, bringing a final sounding of the reconciliation theme in unison and augmentation.
This work was written to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Columbus Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota. The Greek letters, sigma, alpha, and iota, represent the nineteenth, first, and ninth letters of the Greek alphabet. With alpha as A on the piano keyboard, the other letters become B and E. A-B and A-E form the intervals of a second and a fifth respectively, quite appropriate for a twenty-fifth anniversary. The three notes led to the idea of a three-part work with each note becoming a tonal center.
In keeping with the commemorative aspects of an anniversary the composer labeled the sections, “Celebrate the Present,”Remember the Past,” and “Anticipate the Future.” To create a tie with the past, the composer received permission from Jayne Latiolais to incorporate two melodic fragments from her vocal chamber work, Salome, which was commissioned for the tenth anniversary of SAI. These two fragments are involved in the transitions into and out of the section, “Remember the Past.”
By taking the three notes, flatting and sharping each one, the composer developed a nine-note synthetic scale which serves as the underlying framework. In the section on the past she chose five of the nine notes for a five-note scale. The section on the future is based on six of the nine notes.
The work opens with a type of fanfare with a tonal center of A. The main theme of the first section is announced by the violin and cello two octaves apart against a quiet ostinato pattern in the piano which uses the rhythm of the fanfare. The strings then take the ostinato pattern while the piano plays the main theme four octaves apart. Tremolos in the strings and scale passages in the piano modulate to C (B#) for a slower section in which the violin follows the synthetic scale in undulating rhythms against a quiet accompaniment in the cello and piano. The main theme and tempo return, this time with the violin and cello playing in unison.
As descending scales in the strings begin the modulation to the tonal center of E, the first melodic fragment from Jayne Latiolais’ Salome is interjected by the piano. The strings reply with the second melodic fragment in canon.
The “Remember the Past” section, marked Molto meno mosso, begins with a series of eight quiet chords in the piano which continue in ostinato fashion. The cello enters with an espressivo theme which is answered by the violin. The themes are heard in canon as the piano arpeggiates the chords. The section fades away with one last whisper of the second melodic fragment from Salome.
A brief duet in harmonics by the violin and cello leads to the piano’s fiery opening of “Anticipate the Future,” marked Con fuoco with a tonal center of B. The theme is repeated pizzicato in the cello and violin. A sudden return of the opening fanfare begins the Coda. Very brief reprises of the three themes are heard, but again the fanfare interrupts. Tremolo double stops in the violin and cello against rising scales in the piano lead to a final dissonant fortissimo chord.
This poem is an ode to the season of autumn heralding wind and rain and the bright colors of the leaves. The composer enjoys some “word painting” including a hymn style when the text references such things as “blessing the farms” and “the farmer’s prayers.” The poet refers to an old German tradition that a prosperous harvest will find Emperor Charlemagne crossing a bridge of gold and giving a blessing to the land. The work begins with an ostinato pattern on the word “Autumn” in the men’s voices with the women’s rising above with the opening words of the poem. Then the voices exchange places. The composition closes quietly with the same ostinato pattern.
In 1995 the Istropolis Quintet (Slovakia) recorded my woodwind quintet, Gli intrighi d’amore (The Intrigues of Love), for the MMC label. Due to some unforeseen problems the CD containing this work (and my orchestra piece, Seven, A Suite for Orchestra) was not released until 2002.
Recently, Marian Turner, leader of the Istropolis Quintet, contacted me about the quintet’s plan to release a two CD album in late 2013 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the group. I am honored that the quintet intends to include my Gli intrighi d’amore on the album.
Mr. Turner informed me that, after they made the recording in 1995, they gave a number of performances of Gli intrighi d’amore during the quintet’s tour of Spain. The group gave concerts in Barcelona, Girona, Lerida, Tarragona, Sabadell and other cities of northern Spain. The quintet is done with narration. In the performances a Spanish actress did the narration using various masks to represent the different characters involved in the composition.
Also the group performed Gli intrighi d’amore several times in Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) for its concerts for young audiences. Mr. Turner said, “It was always accepted with a big success.”