The Commercial Appeal
Sunday, August 8, 2010, Section B
by Nikii Richey
Excerpt of an article that appeared in The Clarinet,
Volume 37 Number 3 June 2010
The 2010 International Clarinet Association Composition
by Eric P. Mandat with
Michael Norsworthy and Gregory Oakes
It has been a great thrill for me to be a part of the return of the I.C.A. Composition Competition. This year’s competition, for clarinet and piano, saw 33 entrants from 13 different countries. This article will profile the winning composition, Pyrrhic Suite for clarinet in A and piano by Kevin Gray from Memphis. […] All of the works submitted are now at the I.C.A. Research Library.
Pyrrhic Suite, Kevin Gray
The inspiration for Kevin Gray’s five movement Pyrrhic Suite comes from ancient Greek dances which were used as training exercises for armies preparing for combat. In his foreword to the work, Gray writes, “In the 20th and 21st centuries, society has come to regard art and military endeavor as being only distantly related, if at all. We can scarcely imagine dance classes having any place in military training. Yet, in ancient Greece...we have abundant records of just such a state of affairs. Armies in training were taught specific, highly stylized dance steps designed to instill in them the instincts and skills needed in combat. In the writings of Plato and elsewhere, four distinct types of dance are mentioned as belonging to a group of ritualistic dances that are collectively known as ‘Pyrrhiche,’ or Pyrrhic dance.” Of course, no musical examples of these ancient dances exist, but the characteristics of the dance movements are recorded and preserved, and these descriptions provide the source material for Gray’s compositional interpretations. The movements, in order and with the composer’s descriptions, are:
Tetracomos - “a measured and majestic step that suggests to the
modern reader a military parade or review, but more likely
represented the march to combat with the enemy in sight.”
Kosmos - “... designed to develop the skills of leaping and vaulting, in
preparation for surmounting enemy barricades, or simply
negotiating difficult terrain.”
Xiphism - “a stylized dance simulating combat, perhaps with swords
Podism - “a dance characterized by rapid steps, that was apparently
designed to teach soldiers to quickly overtake a fleeing enemy.
Presumably, if the tide of battle turned, these same skills might
be employed in order to quickly retreat.”
The fifth movement is a variation of the first movement, and is also entitled “Tetracomos.”
Now, to the music itself. This is roiling, energetic, rhythmically complex stuff, a serious and declamatory personal expression, but at the same time full of wit, with well timed exaggerated contrasts of moods, gestures, and dynamics.
In the outer movements, the gestures are weighty and ponderous, with considerable space between them. Gray states that for the pianist, “the pedal may be used with a freedom approaching abandon” in the non-staccato passages. Gray calls for the clarinetist to play “ampolloso,” or overblown in these movements: “the note or notes in question should be overblown, almost, but not quite, to the point where loss of control or cracking seems imminent.”
In “Kosmos,” the primary leaping gestures appear in the piano part, generally occurring as quick major seventh leaps punctuated by short rests. Around this background the clarinetist, and ultimately the pianist, present quickly moving, moderately angular gestures with a decidedly chromatic voice leading.
“Xiphism” alternates between short “languid” clarinet solos with minimal chordal piano accompaniment, and longer, rapid and quirkily punchy sections, primarily in unison rhythm between the two performers.
“Podism” hearkens to some of the seventh and quasi-chromatic gestures of “Kosmos,” but now including a considerable number of heavily articulated declamatory repeated-note gestures in the clarinet part.
The final “Tetracomos” begins very similarly to the first movement, but the clarinet interjections are out of time, and the clarinet eventually subsumes the piano altogether, and the clarinetist finishes alone, utilizing the “ampolloso” effect, flutter tonguing, glissandi, and some alternate fingerings which alter the timbre and pitch, ultimately concluding softly in the low notes of the fundamental register.
When you are in Austin for Clarinet-Fest®, please attend the premiere performance, which Richard Faria of Ithaca College has graciously consented to present for all of us. Rick is a fabulous interpreter of new music, and his energy, technical prowess, and musical sensibilities will match the demands of this piece perfectly.
Poster designs, by Nikii Richey and Spencer King, used by permission.
Recordings used by express permission of performers.
All other content: Copyright © 2010, 2012 by Kevin H. Gray.
Unauthorized use or duplication constitutes copyright infringement.