for soprano, viola, cello, and piano
Text by Cynthia R. Fogg
premiered September 19, 2010
Gwendolyn Lytle, soprano; Cynthia Fogg, viola,
Tom Flaherty, cello, and Genevieve Feiwen Lee, piano
Bridges Hall of Music
Songs of the Viola is an exploration of the life the violist. The large size of the shoulder-borne viola has various acoustic and musical ramifications. Its sound is neither as brilliant as the violin's, nor as booming as the cello's. In its role as middle child of the string family, the viola rarely carries either prominent melodic material or harmony-defining bass parts. In fact, its frequent relegation to providing "mere filler" parts in ensembles is at least part of the inspiration of a large collection of viola jokes. And yet, when the viola does take the center stage, it sings with a vivid, powerful, warm, and unforgettable voice. The violist's pride and joy is the C string, which has more substantial bass than the violin can produce, with a clarity not found on the cello. Viola parts function as the glue in chamber music settings, and in orchestras, violists get to sit in best seats in the house. In the midst of swirling winds and strings, one hears a blend of sound that may not even reach the Founders Circle in the audience.
Grand Pause is an ode to all who love to play the viola and, for whatever reasons, don't. The viola is quite a bit larger than the violin, but violists are not generally larger than violinists. This disparity can lead to various frustrations, aches and pains, which can result in a tragic if temporary separation of instrument and instrumentalist. Grand Pause compassionately salutes viola-deprived violists everywhere.
Frets proposes a possible design improvement for the instrument.
The Heartbeat of the Universe proclaims the superiority of the viola and affirms its central role in the cosmos.
My problems? Fortissimo!
I long for Giocoso! Capriccioso!
That’s why my happiness starts to crescendo
Like rolling arpeggios driving toward heaven!
And now here’s the climax:
Life then comes to a grand pause
1 a particular kind of syncopation that seems to ignore the prevailing meter.
2 when a syllable needs more than one note. Sometimes a lot more.
3 veryveryveryveryvery soft.
4 appropriately noisy
5 wider leaps than singers should be asked for, but nearly rhymes with heaven
6 shoeshine motion with bow
7 a brand of pianistless piano.
8 a distant, windup ancestor of the iPod.
9 a cheese with more dependence on mold than is typical.
10 dying away, as life must, eventually.
12 softer and softer and softer and softer and softer and softer and softer and softer and softer
A fingerboard long and mysterious
Why can’t violas just have frets?13
When playing Bartok string quartets
Pianos have keys, traversed with ease.
The guitar is indefensibly indebted
There are keys on clarinets!
Just give us frets!
So – listen, folks!
Why can’t violas just have frets?
III. Heartbeat of the Universe
(and of course, I never could say no
Gilbert and Sullivan? Surely the Ring!
But - one rather unfortunate situation
Well 'twas then that I found
Now tell me when given an honest choice,
Hail to thee O Bratschelein! 17
Come here! Stand here!
And while you're feasting
You're a gong! You're a consort of timpani!
The string, it swings in a silver-white blur
You're inspired! With the propensity
Ooooh I'm ravenous
16 Bostonian for "extol her"
17 Bratsche: the sweet-sounding German word for viola. -lein: German for loved one
18 a veiled and bitter reference to a smaller, viola-like object
19 Bostonian for a vehicle that almost rhymes with "viola"