(1999) Piano, 10 minutes
Appearances was written during a time of intensive contemplation of works of Cézanne. Though not pictorial or narrative, the pieces are akin to careful drawings or viewings. I was intrigued by investigating small areas since my previous music had been on a much larger scale. Each piece considers a single aspect—a melodic fragment, a chord or a rhythmic figure. Harmonic shadings and shifts in register reflect Cézanne's distinctive use of color and light. The seven pieces are ordered to make a contrasting overall shape.
Aria (With Diversions)
(2014) Organ, 10 minutes
The Aria was commissioned by the School of Music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, with generous funding from the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts. Matthew Michael Brown premiered the work in Westminster Abbey in December of 2014.
A sustained melody (or air) is presented as a single line, then with undulating triplets, and is constantly interrupted throughout the piece. The “diversions” introduce new material: playful, introspective, contrapuntal, and majestic. The original melody alternates with these contrasting turns, and is laid bare at the end.
Blue Ridge Airs I
(1988) Piano, 17 minutes
In Blue Ridge Airs I, I have incorporated songs of the Southern Appalachians which were passed down through the oral tradition before the days of radio and recording. Among the songs included are "Charmin' Betsy," "East Virginny," "Groundhog" and "Pretty Saro." The overall shape of the work was developed from "Poor Omie Wise," a North Carolina ballad based on the 1808 murder of a young woman drowned by her lover. In this piece the piano becomes the singer and storyteller. Rather than repeating verses to draw out a ballad, the piano conveys the action through constant variation, development, fragmentation and overlapping. Nonsense songs are translated into improvisatory gestures. The strumming of the banjo and the drone of the Appalachian dulcimer accompany several melodies. Even a summer bird of the region, the indigo bunting, finds its way into the texture. Blue Ridge Airs I is not simply a setting of songs or a mirroring of sounds, however; above all, it is a landscape.
The piece was premiered by Jeffrey Kahane at the Spoleto Festival U.S.A., which commissioned it.
Recorded by Gregory McCallum on Southern Quilt (MSR Classics).
Book of Blue Flowers
In 2010, I was asked to contribute to a fundraising event in response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Hence the “Book of Blue Flowers,” which I presented at an informal benefit concert. The official premiere took place in 2013 at Weil (Carnegie) Hall, New York, with pianist Richard Masters.
Someone had said to me as a child that truly blue flowers don’t exist in nature, and I thought “Wanna bet?” I had already discovered the pure blue Asiatic dayflower in our backyard, and I have been fascinated by the rarity of blue flowers since. I painted watercolors to accompany each piece.
The first four pieces in the set commemorate birthdays and anniversaries of dear friends. “Turquoise Trailer with Hydrangea” depicts dissonantdoo-wop music wafting from a mobile home in Eastern North Carolina. The sixth and seventh pieces celebrate the first birthday, and the life, of Errol Milner Clifford, who died at the age of three.
(2006) Piano, 7 minutes
Elixir was written for my friend Jeffrey Kahane. The conductor and pianist celebrated his fifieth birthday in September of 2006, and Pierre Jalbert, Uri Caine, Gabriel Kahane and myself all wrote piano works in honor of him. The premieres took place at a gala hosted by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. My work is in the cantabile tradition of the Chopin Noctunes.
Inventions to Marden
(2005) Piano, 16 minutes
In the past few years I have developed a strong interest in the work of the contemporary artist Brice Marden. Looking at his work has stimulated musical ideas resulting in a set of five piano pieces. Inventions are often thought of as contrapuntal keyboard pieces or as musical fantasies; my pieces are both. I was not interested in portraying specific works of Marden, but in exploring aspects of his art that recur over several decades. The five pieces investigate various themes in Marden’s paintings, etchings and drawings: calligraphic gestures; seemingly impenetrable surfaces; looping lines that create weblike, fugal energy.
(2016) Piano, 6 minutes
The five pieces were written as presents for friends, to celebrate births, birthdays and anniversaries. “Worry, Interrupted” depicts a state of agitation, dissolving into a light giddiness. “Sway” is a lullaby for new grandparents. Celebratory champagne and bourbon are depicted in “Effervescence” and “Droplets.” And “The Quilter and the Carpenter” juxtaposes a quilting wife and a woodworker husband.
Lullabies and Birdsongs: Nine sketches from the Blue Ridge
(1988) Piano, 11 minutes
In the midst of work on a large-scale composition for piano, I began making small sketches as a diversion. Some were written for friends' birthdays; others for friends with newborns. Four of the pieces are lullabies based on old tunes from the Southern mountains. The five other pieces freely imitate birds which frequent the Blue Ridge farm where I spend much of my time. Lullabies and Birdsongs, much in the tradition of Schumann and Debussy pieces "for" children, is not so simple for children to play!
The Road Up
(2016) Piano, 23 minutes
This piece had its origins as a second set of “Wildflowers” for piano, but the intimate scale took on larger proportions, and Frazelle realized it was more about an exhilarating journey up a mountain road throbbing with bird calls and pulsing greens.
It begins with “The Shack,” portraying a ramshackle Blue Ridge house falling in from decades of hard living and neglect. Its walls “remember” through wafts of ragtime and drunken acceleration. Four actual wildflowers follow: the diaphanous “Queen Anne’s Lace,” the delicate “Bowman’s Root,” the mysterious “Turk’s Cap Lily,” and the flamboyant orange “Butterfly Weed.” The elegiac “Thrush-song everywhere in the forest behind us” is a mourning hymn, embellished by haunting wood thrushes at dusk. Finally, “Encroaching Green”: the verdant joyride up that mountain road.
Frazelle takes great inspiration from the younger generation of composers, and these works are dedicated to several he admires—Andrew Norman, Gabriel Kahane, Jennifer Higdon, Patrick Castillo and Dan Tepfer. The other pieces are written for the photographer Sally Mann and the composer’s dear friends Linda and Stuart Nelson.
(2014-2016) Piano, 8 minutes
The “Drawings” were premiered at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art by six friends of the composer to celebrate his 60th birthday in 2015.
The right hand presents the tune in “Melody”; then the left. “Spin” evokes circular motions with cascading and twirling figures. Musical mirroring is explored in “Palindromes.” “Hymn Echo” presents chorale phrases answered a few beats later in a far-off key. A crystalline texture is evoked in “Glint.” Finally, “Star Cry” pulses with constant-note energy, by turns throbbing and wistful.
(2005) Piano, 32 minutes
In creating a new large-scale piano piece for the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, I chose to reconfigure the traditional three-movement sonata format found in many works of the Classical and Romantic repertoire. There is a tradition of composers – notably Beethoven, Schumann, and Scriabin – varying the architecture of the classical sonata. My Sonata-Fantasy honors aspects of previous forms, but with fantasy elements and unexpected forms.The most radical structural departure from the traditional sonata is in the second section, where the continuous music of a slow movement is replaced with a group of miniatures.
The first movement, “Maestoso e brillante; allegro ritmico” is akin to a Baroque French Overture. It begins with exuberant, ascending gestures giving way to an allegro. Rather than the literal repetition of materials that would exist in works of previous centuries, the ideas are continually evolving, with contemplative interruptions and contrapuntal investigation.
The second movement, "Wildflowers," consists of ten characterizations of native plants from the Blue Ridge:
Slender Ladies’ Tresses
Among them is a tango ("Flame Azalea"), a lullaby ("Deptford Pink") and a rip-roaring rap to the "Viper's Bugloss," a rather frightening, hairy blue wildflower. Fragments of Chopin and Schumann even make unexpected appearances.
The third movement, “Epilogue: molto adagio” a hymn-like motive emerges from a quiet, undulating texture.
Sonata for Harpsichord
(1994) 22 minutes
The Sonata begins with a decisive gesture, descending, from which all the materials in the piece are derived. The second movement is celebratory, a dance. I was asked to write this work to commemorate the life of Alison Durfey, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1992. She was 23 years old. Alison's love of life and music became apparent when her family shared pages of her journal with me. She wrote that one of her favorite things was "really loud harpsichord music on Sunday mornings." The piece was a commission for the radio program Saint Paul Sunday.
A Still of Mirrors
(1995) Piano, 12 minutes
Friends of the artist Susan Moore commissioned A Still of Mirrors in honor of her seventieth birthday. The title is a phrase from an A.R. Ammons poem. I premiered the solo piano piece at a party for the dedicatee in 1995. The music draws on shimmering and subtle images from Moore's silverpoint drawings. A five-note motif announces the adagio opening. The music gives way to faster, then more spacious music by sudden prismatic turns. Eventually the opening is revisited, builds and rounds out the work.
(2005) Piano, 15 minutes
Wildflowers is a set of ten characterizations of native plants from the Blue Ridge Mountains. The set forms the second of three movements of Sonata-Fantasy, a large-scale composition. A pianist may choose to program the entire group or selected numbers.
Among the cycle is "Slender Ladies' Tresses," which honors the delicate orchid with a single-handed piece. "Viper's Bugloss" is a rip-roaring rap to the rather frightening, hairy blue wildflower. And the set ends with "Deptford Pink," a lullaby depicting the miniscule wild carnation.
The Sonata-Fantasy was commissioned by the Reynolda House Museum of American Art and was premiered by the composer in 2005. Wildflowers is published as part of Sonata-Fantasy.
(2006) Piano, 7 minutes
The first piece in this set of three miniatures for solo piano was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival in 2006 as part of its “One Score, One Chicago” project. Each year the festival chooses a musical work as a touchstone for community discussion. Schumann’s Kinderszenen inspired the commission of New Scenes from Childhood from eleven prominent composers, including Frazelle.
The composer chose to expand his reflection on Schumann into a group of sparse, delicately textured pieces. They are dedicated to Frazelle’s friend Lana Young in celebration of her fortieth birthday.
Blue Ridge Airs II
(2001) Flute and piano, 23 minutes
Originally written for flute and orchestra, Blue Ridge Airs II is part of a series of works using elements of traditional Southern folk music. The flutist Paula Robison commissioned and premiered the piece in 1991 and asked me to reshape it for flute and piano ten years later.
Woven into the composition are ballads, hymn tunes and strains of old-time fiddling that survive in the Blue Ridge Mountains near my home. The drone of the Appalachian dulcimer and the songs of birds from the Southern mountains are also part of the texture. Toward the end of the piece are references to the most ancient music of the region. Blue Ridge Airs II is meant to evoke a place, its shifting light and color and resounding views.
Recorded by Paula Robison and Timothy Hester on Paula Live! (Pergola Recordings).
A Book of Days
(2012) Clarinet, viola and piano, 25 minutes
“A Book of Days” investigates passages from American poet A.R. Ammons’ “Tape for the Turn of the Year,” a book-length, diary-like poem written on a continuous roll of adding machine tape. The poet ruminates on the passing of days and the perception of time, ranging from the everyday to the cosmic.
The five movements explore the following passages:
1. “all day life itself is bending, weaving, changing”: Contrasting ideas come and go, reflecting the fleeting nature of daydreams.
2. “paper and thin air”: Thinking about adding machine tape, music manuscript paper, and the everyday nature of objects and their ephemerality. A very quick piece, where each instrument passes around a skittering idea.
3. “some nights the stars are raw and brand new”: A slow, pulsating adagio that breaks into sometimes playful, sometimes terrifying outbursts.
4. “motions racing through, particles and drifts”: Dancelike, with irregular meters, exploring the idea of the Classical Muses, who tease the artist—inspiring one day and absent the next.
5. “it was very lovely: and it’s lost”: The work ends with a slow, spare movement, each instrument moving in different time patterns.
I have admired Strata’s sublime and virtuosic performances for a decade, and am very excited to have written this work for them. It was commissioned by Strata with a grant from the Rauch Foundation. The work was composed in the fall and winter of 2012.
(1999) Cello and piano, 7 minutes
The penetrating blue views from Beech Mountain, North Carolina, suggested the music that begins Clear Again. A high cello melody takes on larger shapes as the piece emerges, and outbursts in both cello and piano finally break out into a playful gigue, which builds to a pulsating end. Clear Again was composed as a gift to benefit the AIDS Task Force of Winston-Salem. It was first performed by cellist Elizabeth Anderson and the composer on the “Live from the Heart” concert on World AIDS Day in 1990.
Elegy for Strings
(1991) String orchestra, string quartet or string quintet, 11 minutes
Elegy for Strings began as the second movement of a string quartet. It was written in memory of Jan DeGaetani, the American mezzo-soprano, whom I knew during the last several years of her life. In 1987 she and pianist Gilbert Kalish performed my song cycle Worldly Hopes, which was written for them. The piece begins with a viola solo based on her name: D-E-G-A-E. This motto is used throughout the work. The elegy is primarily a slow aria with several themes, sometimes growing into more agitated moments. In arranging the movement for string orchestra I added a double bass line and designated some solo passages and double stops, yet the music remains the same as in the quartet.
Published by Peermusic Classical.
(1989) Violin and piano
Fiddler's Galaxy takes its name from the Appalachian town of Galax, Virginia, where a unique style of fiddle playing has existed since the early nineteenth century. I have borrowed bowings, phrases and particular versions of tunes from the Galax area for this composition. The work is in two sections. The first, “Old Time Conventions,” is slow. “Breakdowns,” the second section, is fast, and its tunes are derived from the reels and hornpipes brought by settlers from the British Isles.
Fiddler’s Galaxy was written for violinist Joseph Swenson and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, who premiered it at Weill Hall. Recorded by Sarah Johnson, violin, and Jane Hawkins, piano, on Fiddler’s Galaxy (Albany).
Gee's Bend Pieces
(2009) Trumpet, marimba (and suspended cymbal) and piano, 20 minutes
Lynn University commissioned “Gee’s Bend Pieces” for their annual New Music Festival in 2009. The composition celebrates the vibrant, geometrically intriguing quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a once-isolated African American community whose quilts have been hailed as among the greatest achievements in American art. The four-movement work begins with the annunciatory “Red, White, Black.” “Hymn Fade” follows, inspired by the fading indigo patterns on worn dungarees that the quilters ingeniously work into their designs. “Wisp,” for chopstick on suspended cymbal, describes evaporating fog fragments rising on the Alabama River. “Dance” concludes the work, conjuring eye-dazzling patterns and celebrating the joy of fine craft.
New Goldberg Variations: Molto Adagio & Presto
(1997) Cello and piano, 6 minutes
The idea for the New Goldberg Variations began as a twenty-fifth anniversary gift from Robert Goldberg to his wife Judy. The Goldbergs were friends of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who suggested that they choose a consortium of American composers to create new variations on Bach’s original Aria for his Goldberg Variations. Sadly, Robert died before the project’s completion. The work remains as a tribute to the Goldbergs and their love of music.
Other composers involved in the project were John Corgliano, Richard Danielpour, Peter Lieberson, Peter Schickele and Christopher Rouse.
I was particularly honored to be a part of this project, having known the Goldberg Variations since I was a teenager. I wore out my Landowska record and spent countless hours tripping through the pieces at the piano. Responding to Bach’s soulful balance of song, invention and virtuosity was daunting at first. Yet being part of a collective reviewing of the Variations was intriguing. And the cello and piano lent new interactive and coloristic possibilities.
I wrote two contrasting variations which adhere to the source. The “Molto Adagio” carries forth from the Aria’s stately rhythms, exploring chords created by stacking the original ground bass. In the “Presto” the bass line soars high in the piano, above a whirling inversion canon.
First performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston.
Recorded by Tanya Prochazka and Jaques Despres on The New Goldberg Variations (Arktos).
A Green View
(1994) Cello and piano, 11 minutes
Cellist Nancy Green and pianist Frederick Moyer commissioned me to write a piece for the centennial of their grandfather Paul Green, the noted playwright and great friend to humane causes. My early piano training was with Gladys Green Sylvester, his sister. I incorporated one of Green's own tunes, "What Is the Soul of Man?" into this one-movement piece. The borrowed tune emerges out of a hymn-like beginning, and the piece builds to a frenzied climax.
(2008) Piano, violin and cello, 25 minutes
As I made my first sketches for the Piano Trio, vague images began to take on elemental forms. The first movement began in dark pulsations. The piano emerged with a reaching, circular shape, providing the basic thematic ideas for the entire movement. I realized I was writing about water.
"Unto Dust," the central movement, was inspired by Irwin Kremen’s elegiac collage series Re’eh. The artist abstracts powerful emotions with masterfully torn shapes of taupe, white and black. The music begins with a mournful cello melody. The violin, then the piano, enter with solo ideas, and all three themes are simultaneously developed. A tranquil chorale follows, met eventually with violent march-like outbursts. The chorale reappears and dissipates into shimmering fragments and tremolos.
I wanted to follow two weighty and introspective movements with contrast. "Into Light" is a perpetually moving dance investigating whirling motions and skittering rhythms. Toward the end, the principal theme of the first movement is recast in a vibrant, optimistic light.
The Trio was commissioned by Music@Menlo and was first performed by Jeffrey Kahane, piano, Joseph Swensen, violin, and David Finckel, cello. Recorded on Music@Menlo Live: The Unfolding of Music II, 2008 (Disc 2).
Quintet for Flute, Guitar & String Trio
(1996) 23 minutes
When I began thinking about the Quintet, I imagined a high, sky-like space. The opening flute motif punctuates that space, and its playful gestures soon generate constant rhythmic activity. The guitar enters with soft ascending phrases and forms a dance-like duo with the flute. The string trio introduces the slow section. The guitar enters with an aria-like passage, and free variations follow. Four short scherzos intersperse fragments of the preceding slow music. The forth scherzo segues into the finale section, a brisk rondo recapturing earlier themes.
Commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with assistance from the Los Alamos Concert Association.
Sonata for Cello and Piano
(1989) 23 minutes
The first of three movements begins with undulating motions in the piano. A lyric cello entrance emerges, eventually breaking forth into dancelike music. The entire movement develops from the opening ideas of each instrument.
The second movement, an adagio, suggests a ballad; although the Sonata is not literally based on music from Southern and Appalachian musical traditions, its shapes and rhythmic flexibilities have influenced the overall sonority.
A perpetual vivace concludes the Sonata. The cello presents a jig, interrupted by a whirling piano figure. The music becomes increasingly energetic, pulsating.
Sonata for Cello and Piano was written for Yo-Yo Ma and Jeffery Kahane.
Sonata for Oboe and Piano
(1995) 22 min.
The Sonata is in two movements. The first presents an ascending, spiraling motif suggested by a prehistoric Mimbres pottery bowl. The second movement, Fantasy Variations, is based on an imaginary Appalachian ballad I composed. I wanted to reflect on the North Carolina heritage I share with Philip West, the commissioner. West premiered the piece at Columbia University with pianist Gilbert Kalish.
(1990) Violin, viola and cello, 20 minutes
String Trio uses tunes from the instrumental and ballad traditions of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At times the "borrowed" music is overt; at other times it is submerged, as if in shadows. Fiddle tunes, including "Granny Won't Your Dog Bite" and "Ducks on the Millpond," are taken from some of the oldest recorded
fiddlers from the Round Peak area on the North Carolina-Virginia border, where a distinctive instrumental tradition dates back two centuries. Pizzicato figures suggest the Blue Ridge clawhammer banjo style. The theme of the central Adagio is reminiscent of "The House Carpenter," one of the most prevalent English ballads to survive in the Southern mountains.
Commissioned by the Spoleto Festival U.S.A.
(2011) Violin and bongos, 12 minutes
Several North Carolina composers were asked to contribute new works for the inaugural concert of Forecast Music. Since the venue was a funky club, I decided to “expound” on the locale and write a Beat-inspired piece for Jacqui Carrasco and Scott O’Toole. I even went to a downtown pawn shop and bought a set of bongos to explore their sound world. The three-movement work has the performers sometimes at odds with each other, competing and interrupting, chattering away. Driving, angular rhythms evoke the smoky angst-ridden ambiance of the Fifties.
(2011) Viola, clarinet and piano, 7 minutes
As part of a residency at the Composers' Forum of the Bennington Chamber Music Conference, I was commissioned to write for three amateur participants. I chose to write a single-movement work exploring the shift from winter to spring. Tranquil, dark sonorities open the piece and give way to lighter and faster music as the piece unfolds. The work is dedicated to master potter Karen Karnes, whose subtle, earthy and radiant wood-fired pottery forms a visual parallel to the seasonal shift.
Blue Ridge Airs II
(1992) Flute and orchestra, 23 mintues
Blue Ridge Airs II, for flute and orchestra, is part of a series of works using elements of traditional Southern folk music. Woven into the composition are ballads, hymn tunes and strains of old-time fiddling that survive in the Blue Ridge Mountains near my home. The drone of the Appalachian dulcimer and the songs of birds from the Southern mountains are also part of the texture. Toward the end of the piece are references to the most ancient music of the region. Blue Ridge Airs II is meant to evoke a place, its shifting light and color and resounding views.
Concerto for Chamber Orchestra
(2002) 27 minutes
Concerto for Chamber Orchestra was jointly commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the Nashville Chamber Orchestra.
There is no rule about what constitutes a concerto for orchestra; I wanted to showcase the virtuosity of the chamber orchestra and allow certain instrumental combinations and solos to inhabit specific musical ideas. The five-movement work is more deliberately personal, even autobiographical, than many works of mine. I chose to investigate challenging, even tumultuous, inner states and was struck by how themes in the music also related to difficult events in the world.
The first movement, “Worlds Within,” explores several personal "voices" in solos for the horn, piano and clarinet; these themes are played out in a sonata-allegro form. “Twists” offers relief from the intensity of the first movement. An arabesque figure in the flute presents light and winding music, interrupted by the "twist," the dance craze of my childhood. The harsh central movement is “Tears/Tears.” It was prompted by a snatch of percussive car-stereo music which awoke me late one night. The hard-driving beat is occasionally softened by a falling teardrop-like gesture. "Air" follows, a movement for oboe and solo strings. It is a refiguring of a song of mine based on a poem of A.R. Ammons. In this version the oboe is the singer. The movement memorializes Ammons, who died in 2001. The finale, "Glare," begins with trumpets and horns. They play a motive derived from the introspective piano themes of the first movement. But rather than turning inward, the music persists, energized, pulsating to the end.
The Four Winds (after Mozart)
(2000) Orchestra, 23 minutes
As a sinfonia concertante, that difficult marriage of the concerto and the symphony, The Four Winds (after Mozart) borrows its form from one of Mozart's most distinctive works. My homage to Mozart only begins there: I have attempted to honor my predecessor with numerous thematic materials intended to be Mozartian in gesture, yet unfolding on their own terms.
I am struck by Mozart's unerring sense of the specific sound world of each wind instrument. In my piece, the orchestra often presents ideas which the solo winds then reshape idiomatically. Mozart explores an immense range of character in his wind writing, and I chose to investigate sharp contrasts: energetic, lyrical, whimsical, virtuostic, wistful, even outrageous musics are juxtaposed.
The subject of "wind" itself is presented in my piece: Each movement quotes a passage about wind — or air or breath — from a Mozart opera or song. The first movement, "Così, Eventually" is in classical sonata allegro form, and actually becomes the wind music from Così fan Tutte for a moment. "Evening Aria," the second movement, features a clarinet motif taken from the piano accompaniment of Mozart's gorgeously unfolding song "Abendempfindung." It seemed important to bring in Mozart's beloved clarinet; even though it is not in the solo wind grouping of my piece, it is heard as far-off, lost, longing to join the bassoon solo. The final "Variable Winds" comes without pause, a presto romp in rondo form. A sighing repeated-note motif from "Non so più" in The Marriage of Figaro completes the references to wind. The careful listener might hear more of Mozart's music in brief passages prompted by favorite piano concertos of the piece's commissioners.
I conceived of The Four Winds as a unified triptych, like the Mozart concertos. I realized after the fact that the movements' titles themselves are a verbally linked cycle: "Eventually" becomes "evening," and "aria" becomes enclosed in the word "variable."
Commissioned for the Phoenix Symphony.
From the Air
(2000) Chamber orchestra, 10 minutes
From the Air was inspired by the idea of looking down on the earth from above, a sense of hovering. This image was the inspiration for the opening adagio, in the style of an aria, which not coincidentally, is Italian for "air." As the introductory section gradually accelerates into a scherzo that includes two short trios, the piece moves beyond its initial inspiration and takes on a life of its own. I am often asked where inspiration comes from; I believe there is something about the creative process that is mysterious or "from the air."
From the Air was commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony while I was composer-in-residence there.
(1997) Orchestra, 11 minutes
Commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) and friends of Donal K. Higgins, this is a set of ten variations on the theme for the final variations of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony and the Eroica Variations. The work also mimics the scoring of the Eroica. I have compressed and spliced the bass line and the dance-like melody of the original theme in a polytonal and discombobulated manner. It is like a collage that is torn and compressed, though everything that happens should be pretty clear to the listener. There is a chain-link effect from one variation to the next; each variation opens up harmonically or motivically to the following one. Most of the variations feature a solo or soli pairing. The title is a pun on LACO, the piece’s commissioner.
Playing the Miraculous Game
(1987) Orchestra, 14.5 minutes
When I was a child my family played a musical guessing game we called "Miraculous." My father would sound out the first notes of a song on his harmonica or my sister's toy piano, and the rest of us would shout out the name of the song as soon as we knew it. The songs in the piece are those from my own memory as well as those of my maternal grandmother and great-uncle. The form of the piece was patterned after a faded quilt my paternal grandmother made. Hanging in my house, the quilt's design—triangles forming spinning squares—evoked all kinds of musical images. The melodies are used in fragments, straightforward as sung, or superimposed on one another. A ballad becomes a fiddle tune, which turns into a jig; a flash of memory is silenced by forgetting. The day I finished sketching out the piece the quilt fell from the wall.
Commissioned by the Winston-Salem Symphony.
Published by Peermusic Classical.
(1996) Orchestra, 11 minutes
Shivaree was inspired by a childhood joyride on New Year's Eve. Armed with old pots and pans, a few cousins and my sister and I piled into our aunt's baby-blue Thunderbird, and we drove through the country to awaken relatives and friends. We shrieked and beat the pots and pans as loudly as possible, and Aunt Jane pounded the car horn. I've remembered those wild sounds ever since.
Another New Year's night my father and I watched for shooting stars; in my memory those luminous streaks blur with fireworks and bright lights and throbbing noise.
Shivaree draws upon these memories. The piece begins with gestures of excitement and anticipation. In the tranquil middle section, stars appear, sparsely at first, then gradually break out into a full-fledged meteor shower. The music becomes more raucous and celebratory to the end.
Commissioned by the Winston-Salem Symphony and Santa Rosa Symphony.
The Swans at Pungo Lake
(2006) Orchestra, 6 minutes
For its 75th Anniversary season, the North Carolina Symphony commissioned six composers to create musical “Postcards” to portray various sites in the state. Frazelle chose Pungo Lake, a desolate location near the coast, where tens of thousands of tundra swans and snow geese spend the winter. North Carolina’s tidewater wetlands are the winter home of the majority of the world’s eastern tundra swans, which nest in Alaska.
In the work, Frazelle explores sweeping helix patterns the thousands of birds form as they gather in and above a large field just before sunset, their white bodies electrified by the brilliant late-day light. The thunderous beating of thousands of wings and the loud drone of the birds' honking are also portrayed.
The piece begins with spacious, undulating music in the marimba, strings and muted brass, suggesting the flat, open landscape. An oboe solo presents a second theme, which gains momentum as more and more lines enter, forming soaring, dancelike shapes. Eventually an accumulation of bird sounds and the thwacking of wings occurs in the entire orchestra, only to fade to the opening spaciousness as the birds disappear.
Frazelle’s friend Alison Jones generously shared her on-site recording of the swan and geese sounds. The young percussionist John Langford helped the composer configure some of these sounds in his orchestration.
As of 2006, this precious bird refuge remains in jeopardy. The U.S. Navy has threatened to construct and operate an outlying landing field for fighter jets near Pungo Lake, which is part of the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge.
(2012) Violin, cello, piano and string orchestra, 28 minutes
The Triple Concerto was composed in the first months of 2012. It follows the three-movement plan of the Classical concerto.
The first movement begins with bold, majestic chords in the piano, followed by a contrasting, lyrical duet in the solo violin and cello. The juxtaposition of these initial contrasting ideas form the dramatic impetus for the entire movement. They are extended and developed, sometimes investigating light, playful diversions. Towards end of the movement, col legno chords in the orchestra accompany a fugal area presented in the solo strings. Gradually the entire orchestra joins in, building to a more animated section, interrupted twice by wistful piano fragments.
The solo cello begins the “Variations” movement, supported by undulating strings. A set of interconnected variants follows--for piano and violin, cello pizzicato--then skittering music for the string orchestra. Finally all three soloists interact, and gradually return to the opening solo cello theme, this time fortissimo and with the entire ensemble. The movement dissipates to a high, almost inaudible violin passage.
After two rather formal movements, the Concerto ends with a molto vivace in 5/4 time. Fragments of Chopin’s nicknamed “Dog Waltz” (better known as the “Minute Waltz”) tease the listener for a while, trying to break into a waltz. Finally, 3/4 time arrives, and the piece races to the end.
Right before I composed the final movement, my partner and I Iost our beloved dog Honey. Her outrageous energy and exuberance pervade the finale.
The Concerto was commissioned by the Meadowmount School of Music in celebration of its 70th anniversary. The soloists were James Ehnes, violin, Robert deMaine, cello, and Meadowmount’s director, Eric Larsen, as pianist. James Allbritten conducted the Meadowmount String Orchestra.
Appalachian Songbook I
(1989-2000) Voice and piano, 20 minutes
Eight traditional songs sung in the Blue Ridge Mountains, freely adapted and arranged:
In East Virginny
Old Joe Clark
Single AgainBonnie Blue Eyes
I came to these songs through research and field work, and through my maternal grandmother and great uncle, whose ancestors settled in eastern North Carolina in the early 1700s. I changed the song "Charmin' Betsy" to "Charmin' Birdy" to honor the memory of a beloved beagle. The songs are meant to be sung in a colloquial manner.
Recorded by Marilyn Taylor and Robert Brewer on Return: Art Songs from Carolina (Albany).
Appalachian Songbook II
(2004-2008) Voice and piano, 23 minutes
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss
Appalachian Songbook II follows a similar set of songs written between 1989 and 2003. The eight songs in the second book draw upon traditional Blue Ridge ballads, fiddle tunes, folk remedies and sacred music. I have also borrowed verses and tunes from my maternal grandmother, Nina Shaw, and great uncle Leinster Farrior. These relatives are descendants from two centuries of settlers from the coast of North Carolina, a region which shares the same body of folk music as the Appalachians.
Two of the songs, “Sally Ann” and “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss,.” are most often heard as fiddle tunes in the Blue Ridge. “The Cuckoo,” “Wagoner’s Lad,” and “Wondrous Love” are widely sung throughout the Southern mountains. Visitations to an old witch-woman are staged in “Spells.” The bawdy British classic “Our Goodman” comes from my grandmother, and the sweet version of “Billy Boy” is borrowed from my Uncle Leinster.
Appalachian Songbook II was written between 2004 and 2008. It was first performed by Marilyn Taylor with the composer at the piano at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts on March 28, 2008.
From the Song of Songs
(2002) Soprano and piano, 20 minutes
The Barlow Endowment awarded me the Barlow Prize in 2001, which resulted in the commissioning of From the Song of Songs. The work was written for soprano Erie Mills and pianist Jeffrey Peterson, who gave the world premiere at Brigham Young University. My settings are taken from the King James and Revised Standard versions of the Bible, with some modifications. The first seven songs are passages generally believed to be the Woman speaking in the "Song of Songs." The final section describes the Woman's dance and is sung in both English and Hebrew.
Prayer of St. Francis
(2017) Medium voice and piano, 5 minutes
This prayer traditionally attributed to St. Francis begins with gentle, meditative music. The piece builds gradually toward the words “hope,” “light,” and “joy.” The music reaches its most intense moment as the voice rises “to eternal life.”
The work was commissioned to celebrate the life of Julie Steele, and was performed at a memorial service in her honor.
(1997-1998) Soprano and piano, 12 minutes
I received a commission from the Reynolda House Museum of American Art to honor A.R. Ammons' 70th birthday. Soprano Marilyn Taylor and I premiered "I Went Back" in 1997 in the presence of the poet. Taylor wanted a lengthier work for her New York debut at Weill Hall the following year, and commissioned the two additional songs.
The cycle begins with "Father", a poignant poem in which the narrator's long-departed father and mother appear to him in dreams, only for him to reawaken yearning for their return. "Retiring" is the exultant middle scherzo, with sparkling coloratura turns in the voice and piano. The poet tells us the playfully grandiose things he will do with brooks, clouds and stars in his retirement. "I Went Back" places us in the terrain of Ammons' native eastern North Carolina. In returning to his home place, the furrowed fields become oceanic, and memory cannot be washed away. Undulating music permeates the song, which dissipates into silence.
(2001) Baritone and piano, 8 minutes
The three Shakespeare Sonnets are unique among my songs, as they were written for male voice. Sonnet 15 considers life's ephemeral nature through gestures suggesting stars and the growing and decaying of plants. The second song, "How shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" is perhaps the Bard's most famous sonnet, number 18. Ascending figures in the vocal line and the piano affirm the life-giving sun, and the "eternal lines to time which give life to the beloved.” The set ends with Sonnet 43: In a hypnotic, lulling texture the poet dreams of his absent lover. These settings came about as commissions from the Joy In Singing's "Millennium Songbook" project, and from the North Carolina Music Teachers Association.
Songs of Clay and Stone
(2015) Mezzo soprano and piano, 20 minutes
A thousand years ago, Ancestral Puebloans formed intriguing pottery and built impressive villages atop mesas and within the recesses of cliffs of what is now the American Southwest. Today’s inhabitants of the pueblos of the Rio Grande and the Hopi mesas are descendants of these previous settlers. Through song lyrics and music, Frazelle investigates specific places and individual potters, women whose artistic contributions are among the greatest American artworks. One song brings the listener to the desolate New Mexican ruins of Chaco Canyon, peering through a series of stone doorways where one can view through interconnected rooms rectangles within rectangles into infinity. These portals and walls were constructed of delicate masonry meant to endure for centuries. Another piece honors Nampeyo, the matriarch of Hopi pottery who revived ancient traditions at the turn of the last century. Her ceramics utilized prehistoric Sikyatki designs from pottery that was being excavated beneath her First Mesa village in the late 1890’s. Studying the designs, Nampeyo infused them with her inimitable vision. An additional section dramatizes the extreme forces of weather on sculpting the fantastic landscape. The composer’s coloristic melodic and harmonic palette captures the subtle oranges, pinks, reds and ochres of the region. Images of the potters, the pueblos and cliff dwellings, and the vast landscape have been well documented since the first days of photography, and may be projected in performances of the work. The most widely known photographer is Edward S. Curtis, whose “The North American Indian” comprises one of the most comprehensive documentations ever attempted. Selected images will interact with Frazelle’s sonic landscape in evoking this very sacred land.
Still, Music from Still/Here
(1994) Voice, string quartet and percussion, 38 minutes
The choreographer Bill T. Jones and I met in 1993, and I was immediately enlisted to compose the "Still" section of his dance and media works. The full-evening piece integrates movement, video, and words Jones gathered across the country in "survivor workshops," whose participants were living with life-challenging illnesses.
I went through hundreds of hours of videotapes from these workshops to shape lyrics which people of every age, color and gender had shared with us. I worked closely with Jones and video artist Gretchen Bender for months, then composed the songs in solitude. The eight pieces explore introspection, denial, fear and panic, yet ultimately are defiant and life-affirming. Bill and I agreed that the folksinger Odetta was the perfect voice to convey the range of feeling of the songs. She recorded my score with the Lark String Quartet and percussionist Bill Finizio. Meanwhile, rock guitarist Vernon Reid was creating the "Here" section, investigating many of the same workshop ideas.
Still/Here was premiered at the Festival de la Danse in Lyon, France in 1994, with subsequent performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. The work went on to worldwide performances for two years, to critical acclaim and controversy.
I fashioned the songs for "Still" in a deliberately vernacular style, not nearly as fastidiously notated as most of my other vocal works. The jazz singer Cassandra Wilson recorded some of the songs for Bill T. Jones' reinvestigation of the work, The Phantom Project: Still/Here Looking On, which premiered in 2004. The songs can be sung by any type of singer, and are open to multiple interpretations.
Sunday at McDonald's
(1993) Soprano and piano, 22 minutes
In Sunday at McDonald's I chose five poems by A.R. Ammons that are uniquely intimate in the poet's writing. The title of the song cycle comes from the middle poem. I liked the pairing of the sacred and the everyday. Even though the poems are from different collections and were written at different times, I chose them and ordered them to make a specific musical shape. In the first three poems the narrator has some kind of realization, even transcendence, by observing the night sky, the afternoon clouds, or by looking "to the still star bending, fixed ahead." The fourth poem is light, a grounding, a letting go. And the final song is the most intimate. Splendor is found in the lover's body, not in "spools or drifts of stars."
Images and motions are conveyed both in the piano and the voice, which are equal presences. Stars and reappearances, wind, the zaniness of "babies gumming french fries," pricked balloons, and the tenderness of falling hair are all reflected in the music.
Sunday at McDonald's was written for Dawn Upshaw and Jeffrey Kahane.
(2007) Soprano and piano, 15 minutes
Red Cockaded Woodpecker
Parakeeto (Audubon’s View)
These four songs for soprano and piano celebrate, and lament, endangered and extinct birds of the Southeastern United States. The texts are drawn from descriptions by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century naturalists, and from current news items. The first and fourth songs feature the extinct Carolina parakeet, the vibrant bird that was the only parrot native to North America. The second work sets the haunting bird song of the piping plover. And the vampy “Red Cockaded Woodpecker” tells the shameful tale of a pine forest massacre in eastern North Carolina in 2006.
(1985) Mezzo-soprano and piano, 22 minutes
These songs are based on five short poems by A.R. Ammons. Though the poems are small-scale, the reader is drawn into their seemingly boundless areas. In the music, expanses are conveyed through elongated phrases on certain words and syllables, through gradually shifting motions over a large shape. "Shading Flight In" is an elegy to the memory of my teacher Roger Sessions. Worldy Hopes was written for and first performed by Jan DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish.
Recorded on Jan DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish in Concert (Bridge).
(1999) Chorus and piano, 6 minutes
These three choral settings were written as holiday gifts for my mother, sister and brother. The texts are my own, drawing on personal Christmas observations. The first song, "Everything's All White," describes a gentle snowfall that softens the frantic mood of shopping and gift-wrapping. In "Eastern Road," my journey back home toward eastern North Carolina is depicted: the flattening of the landscape evokes a childhood memory of my father teaching me the names of constellations. The set ends with "Syllabub," my Great Aunt Ethel's recipe for a frothy holiday drink.
Hard Times (Stephen Foster, arr. Frazelle)
(2015) SATB chorus, 5 minutes
During a time of personal difficulties for the composer, the opportunity to arrange Stephen Foster’s classic song arose. The setting fluctuates between nostalgic, despairing, and hopeful verses. The UNCSA Cantata Singers premiered the work in 2015, led by Nathan Zullinger.
The Motion of Stone
(1998) Chorus and chamber orchestra, 38 minutes
My largest work to date is a setting of sections of A.R. Ammons' poem "Tombstones," from Sumerian Vistas. The critic Helen Vendler helped me chisel the lengthy poem to its essential state. I scored the work for soloists, chorus and a chamber orchestra without violins. The seven movements contemplate the inscription of names into stone and the eventual erosion of the seemingly permanent. The Motion of Stone was the culmination of a residency I had at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and was premiered by the Museum's Chamber Orchestra in 1999. Anne Howard Jones conducted the orchestra with the Boston University Chamber Choir. Much of the piece was composed during a residency I had at the American Academy in Rome, the perfect city for observing stone.
(2013) TTBB chorus, 5 minutes
The Psalm was commissioned for the Men’s Chorus of the historic Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC. Glenn Siebert conducted the premiere, with Susan Keck Foster as organist. The opening presents a stately setting of “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.” A flowing middle section becomes more contrapuntal, balanced by a return to the opening, rising in majestic intensity. The work is dedicated to the composer’s mother, Olive Shaw Downing.