Devin Farney

Notes from the Composer

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

....vexed....  

Performed by Michelle Kwon, Gretchen Claasen, Esther Rogers and Lucas Chen.

The musical legacy of French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925) is, in the eyes of many, superseded by the quirks that defined him as a man. Such eccentricities are often evident in the titles given to his works, such as Two Preludes For a Dog and Dried Up Embryos, and his sharp wit can clearly be observed in his countless quips and keen observations on music, art, religion, society, and everything else. To this day people are still vexed by this monumentally inscrutable figure.

There is something truly enigmatic about Satie, and I felt compelled to dive deeper into his world. I thus conceived …vexed ... as a character study of the man. His friends and colleagues described him as a droll fellow with a tendency for extreme loneliness—a distant, icy figure whose sarcastic humor often seemed to be masking a deeper sadness within. It is this vexing duality that served as a springboard for my conception of this work. In essence I have tried to put on the unique glasses with which he viewed the world, resulting in what I hope is a distorted, darkly sarcastic piece.

The music of ...vexed ..., scored for cello quartet, is based loosely on fragments of Satie's short piano work Vexations. This snaky, unsettling piece is accompanied by a most peculiar performance suggestion: it should be repeated 840 times! While in ...vexed ... there was no clear intention on my part to realize this particular Satiean quirk, I did present the material in a quasi-variations form. The main Vexation theme (and later it's accompanying Bass Line theme) is introduced and recycled in different contexts, all of which are attempts to depict something enigmatically vexing.

Five Haiku for Orchestra

San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra 

These five short movements for orchestra are titled I. Poised With Antiquity; II. With Directionality and Intention; III. Serene Meditation; IV. Frantic With Neurotic Excitement; and V. Lifeless Tundra. Each piece presents a unique musical parameter and explores the realms of development within the context of relatively simple materials. I, for instance, consists of only white notes; however, my conception of the pitch structure is far from diatonic. II and IV are concerned with repeated rhythmic gestures whose variations occur chiefly through register and timbre shifts, while III and V are studies in static motion and nonlinear time.

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