Seven Little Duets

for two double basses

These duets were written in the summer of 1991 while performing at a festival in Flagstaff, Arizona.  I had written a set of concert duets a few years before and wanted to write a set of duets more suitable to the studio or to be played among friends.  I had always enjoyed playing duets with my colleagues, teachers, and students, and wanted to add something to that repertoire.

All the duets are short and can be played from a single part.  Six of the seven are written in binary form with two sets of repeats.  One of the enjoyable things to do with binary duets is to change parts at the repeat, and these duets are constructed so the players can do that.

There is no real emotional plan for these pieces other than to contrast moods.  They are meant to be played for enjoyment. With only a couple of adaptations, they could also be performed by two cellos, or cello and double bass.

The score video below uses sampled sounds. The videos do not take any of the repeats.

Seven Little Duets are available from American Composers Edition at https://composers.com/composers/glenn-stallcop/seven-little-duets-two-double-basses

Vision Quest (2002)

for double bass and piano

Vision Quest was written during the summer of 2002 as a work for myself to play.  I had not written a double bass work for several years, and I felt compelled to try to add a more serious work to the double bass solo repertoire.

Many of my works are taken from an improvisation to a greater or lesser degree.  This work was developed from a keyboard improvisation, however, it bears little resemblance to the original as the transformation has been extensive.  The original improvisation served as more of a springboard for the inspiration and the development of the piece.

The term “vision quest” is usually associated with Shamanism, and refers to a period of solitary fasting and chanting in the wilderness in search of a ‘defining” vision.  The work, however, is not particularly sectarian or partial to any particular religious tradition.  The work is meant to represent an ecstatic religious experience in a more abstract sense.  Neither is the music particularly Native American in character, though the ending “vision” section does bare a passing resemblance to the music associated with traditional Peyote ceremonies.

Vision Quest was awarded the David Walter Prize by the International Society of Bassists in their bi-annual composition contest for solo double bass.  It was premiered at the 2004 ISB Convention in Kalamazoo, MI, with Michael Cameron double bass, and Dianne Frazier Cross, piano.  For these videos, I am playing the double bass and Sherry Lenich is the pianist  in a performance at Pinnacle Presbyterian in Scottsdale in April, 2010.

The first movement, Ritual Incantation, portrays the period of singing, prayer, and meditation that begins the ritual.

After fasting and praying for a vision that will transform the subject’s spiritual identity, there is often a painful period in which the original identity is abandoned.  The second movement takes up this experience.

After the abandonment, the “empty vessel” invites a new spiritual presence to appear.  This is done with singing, dancing, and chanting ending in delirious rapture followed by the transforming vision.

Vision Quest (2002) is available from the American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here

Sonata (1991)

for cello and piano

During the 1980’s, I developed a goal of writing sonatas or something similar for all the string instruments.  The Sonata for Cello and Piano was the last one I wrote, though I didn’t write serious multi-movement work for the double bass, oddly enough, until the 2000’s.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano is written in the Neo-Classical/Neo-Renaissance style that I used for most of the 1980’s.  It combines a spiraling expository process with more traditional forms.

The first movement is rather standard sonata form, complete with a repeat after the exposition.  The timing really needs the repeat, and I suggest taking it.  It is quite lyrical and delicate at times.

The second movement uses a modified binary form, but I have eliminated the traditional repeats.  The spiraling of the material is more obvious in this movement, especially in the first half, and it is more dramatic than the first movement.  The movement ends with a lyrical but dramatic mini-cadenza for the cello.  The third movement is effective when played attacca.

The-third movement is a spirited and virtuosic rondo.  It is rather equally balanced with busy solo passages for both the cello and piano.  The telescoping passage at the end brings it to a rousing conclusion.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano was first performed by Duo West, Ian Ginsberg, cello, and Sherry Lenich, piano, in Tempe, AZ in October of 2004.  They are the fine performers on these videos.

Sonata for Cello and Piano (1991) is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Trio (1983)

for flute, viola, and piano

The Trio (1983) for flute, viola, and piano was written as a finale to a concert of new chamber music works I presented in March of 1983.  The other two premieres on that concert were the Viola Sonata (1982) and Short Set (1982) for flute and piano.

The work is one of the few traditional four-movement works I have written.    I wrote the whole concert as a single design.  The Viola Sonata has three sonata-like movements, and Short Set has three ABA song-like movements.  The Trio is a combination of the two, with the outer two movements being sonata-like and the inner two movements being song-like.  The first two movements are played attacca, and the last two movements are also played attacca, so the work is quite symmetrical.

The work has a festival or reunion feel to it.  The first movement is the arrival stage, as the peace and quiet is disturbed by the arrival of the guests.  My father’s family was very large and would stage family reunions every Thanksgiving at the local Grange Hall in Woodland, Washington, where upwards of a hundred people would gather.  The two inner movements are episodes, and the last movement is the finale which for us was Thanksgiving dinner.  I have several relatives whom I still only know from these events.

The first movement is titled Ingathering, which leads directly into the second movement, Waiting for the Sunrise.

The third movement is a quirky Scherzo, which keeps alternating between 2/4 and 3/4, and is followed by a hard-driving Finale.

Trio (1983) is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Midsummer Night (1982)

for violin, marimba, and piano

Growing up in the USA, I didn’t know anyone who celebrated Midsummer Night.  I had studied the Shakespeare play in high school, but still didn’t think of the summer solstice as a holiday that people celebrated until the late 1970’s, when I went on an reading binge of the novels of Ursula Le Guin.  In her Earthsea series, there is a detailed description of the celebration of Midsummer Night, which included dancing until dawn.  All the holidays I had ever known were either religious or political and rather tedious, but this sounded like a holiday that I would actually enjoy celebrating! 

The trio, Midsummer Night, was written for a concert of new chamber works in 1982 in Scottsdale, AZ.  The work is in three lively movements. 

Jazz Dance does not refer to “swing” jazz so much as the Jazz Fusion that flourished in the 1970’s, which is more rhythmically derivative of Hard Rock with straight eighth notes. 

The second movement, Waltz, is a little more subdued, but slowly picks up the tempo to a point where the dance swings freely in one.  

The last movement, Tarantella, though not as fast as the original dance, is never-the-less fast enough!  The syncopation and counterpoint make it seem faster than it is.  The tempo never falters. and continues to drive forward to a wild almost Bacchanalian finish.  I have often performed the Tarantella separately, as it is a show piece all its own.piece all its own.

Midsummer Night is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Suite from “Bridge to Nowhere” (2018)

for solo piano

This suite is a transcription and adaptation of four tracks from the album, Bridge to Nowhere, which I released in 2017.

I am using “Bridge to Nowhere” as a metaphor for spiritual awakening.  The experience is described in the literature of several religions and is characterized by replacing one’s image of oneself (ego) with an acceptance of one’s experience as oneself.  It is a realization that we are not separate from the world.  It is us, and we are it.  

But the experience changes nothing except one’s attitude.  Everything is the same.  As the Buddhist Ch’ing-yüan puts it:

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters.  When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters.  But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.  For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

I can’t say to have ever had this experience myself, but I have always been fascinated by what I have read about it.  It is always described as a loss of self, or rather the loss of one’s image of oneself.  It is sort of an intellectual and emotional suicide in order to accept the world as it is (or the world as God. depending on your viewpoint).  It seems very risky. 

My link to understanding is through music. It is beautiful, socially engaging, and its mysterious depths seem bottomless. This suite explores some of those mysteries.

Call of the Crossing, explores the strange allure of spiritual practice.

Fear of Heights is about the trepidation that accompanies a spiritual commitment.

You Can See Forever is an encounter with emptiness.

Beautiful Water is a reassessment of and reemergence in the world.

Suite from “Bridge To Nowhere” is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Brass Quintet (1979)

for 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba

The Brass Quintet (1979) was written for the Southwest Brass Quintet.  The ensemble was comprised of members of the Phoenix Symphony, and the work was first performed at Arizona State University in December of 1979. 

The work is the second in which I used transcribed keyboard improvisations as the basis for the composition.  The work uses a free-wheeling motivic technique based around a rather blues and jazz derived style.  

At the time, the brass quintet, as an ensemble, had not yet developed the light-hearted pops-oriented reputation brought on by such groups as the Canadian Brass, etc.  As such, I treated the instrumentation and music as I would any other piece of chamber music.  Though the style is based on some more popular elements, the music is more complex and intricate than one might expect.  More often than not the texture is contrapuntal and the work abounds in cross rhythms and syncopation. The work was written for professional level performers and is a sparkling show piece.

The first movement is a predominantly lyrical allegro movement that gradually builds into a driving climax. 

The second movement is an moderate tempo lyrical waltz. 

The last movement is a boisterous jig full of drive and good humor. 

Brass Quintet (1979) is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

The Unreal Dwelling

for unaccompanied violin

The morning that I received the call from Steven Moeckel in which he asked me to write a piece for unaccompanied violin, I had been reading from a collection of literary prose by Matsuo Basho, the famous Japanese haiku poet.  We were in the midst of the long shutdown for the Covid-19 pandemic.  Musicians were not working; whole symphony seasons had been cancelled.  We discussed the artistic (let alone financial) crisis the situation was creating.  He talked of having taken a trip to the Oregon coast and taken long walks through misty forests to facilitate some serious artistic soul searching.  He had formulated a plan for an unaccompanied recording and wanted to commission a new work for it. 

His talk of hermetic isolation in forests of the Pacific Northwest (where I grew up) seemed to fit into the mood of the material I was reading.  I decided start writing with a working title of Mists of the Unreal Dwelling.  The “unreal dwelling” was a hut Basho had lived and recuperated in after his famous ten-month journey to Northern Japan in 1690.  It was tucked away on a mountain slope behind an oft-neglected shrine overlooking Lake Biwa north of Kyoto.  The image seemed to convey both the isolation and reflection which brought the piece into existence.

As I wrote the piece, however, the fog lifted and the work became more extroverted and showy.  The “mists” were swept from the title, which became just The Unreal Dwelling.  Basho wrote more than one prose poem about the hut and his time there.  I was taken with how he wrote with affection of the hut’s disrepair and his own battered, road-weary body.  As he says, “Isn’t it true that there’s no place that is not an unreal dwelling?” His ideals of asceticism, however, were disturbed by his artistic vision and constant restlessness.  The music is indeed restless, and displays a fair amount of virtuosity.  The work was completed in August of 2020 in Phoenix.

Steven Moeckel is concertmaster of the Phoenix Symphony and Santa Fe Opera. He has performed as a soloist and chamber musician all over the world.  His upcoming album Sei Solo (from an inscription on the six solo sonatas of Bach which refers to the number six, but literally translates as “I am alone.”), features music of Bach, Ysaye, and Paganini, as well as The Unreal Dwelling.  The video below is an excerpt of a preview Steven did of his album for the video series, The Way Back Sessions.  There is a little intro before he plays the piece.

Serenade In Isolation (2020)

for string orchestra and harp

Serenade In Isolation was written during the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020. Most of it was written in isolation at our cabin outside of Ash Fork, AZ. Though I was retired at the time, and a bit of a hermit by nature anyway, the complete isolation brought on by the crisis was a bit much. I really missed playing and performing, and when I wrote this Serenade, I was thinking of my colleagues. 

Like most of my music for the last thirty years, the music originated as a keyboard improvisation. Though the first, second, and, especially, the last movement have gone through multiple alterations and transformations, the third and fourth movement, though orchestrated, are almost literal transcriptions. 

In writing a five movement string serenade, I suppose I am modeling after Tchaikovsky but (except for the inclusion of an elegy of sorts) there is no other similarity. The 1st movement, Moment of Resolve, starts off with a good deal of resolve, and it shows quite a bit of determination. However, with the introduction of the solo quartet, it begins to get distracted. I missed my family and friends, and felt badly for those who were getting sick. The ending mimics the opening, but though it pushes for resolution it ends up not getting anywhere. 

The second movement, Song of Intimacy, alludes to the fact that, unlike some, I did not have to face this alone. My wife, Leslie, not only was my loving companion but a problem-solving guru, and guided us through the complex alterations of our routine with great skill and determination. Though we have spent nearly a lifetime together, the added intimacy was both a joy and a wonder. 

The third movement, March of the Toddler, is conjured by joyful memories. There is absolutely nothing like having a toddler around the house for both sheer joy and terror.. This toddler is constantly testing him or herself; running, climbing, and joking with parents. He or she eventually begins to tire and a parent is there to hug and console, and convince them to take a nap. 

We have lost many people in this pandemic, and we are losing more every day. Most victims have been isolated and intubated, and have not had the chance to even say goodbye. Goodbye Song, the fourth movement is for them. 

About two months into the pandemic came the horrendous killing of George Floyd in police custody. The demonstrations, which became worldwide, raged for the entire summer. The initial reactions from the police included examples of exactly the kind of behavior that were being protested. The fact that those protesting risked infection by just gathering, added to their impact. The last movement of Serenade in Isolation, Protest, is for them. It starts with a quote from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and ends with an allusion to Respeghi’s Feste Romane. In between are also allusions to the first and fourth movement. The ending features a long buildup leading to conflict at the end. I have vivid memories of the demonstrations of the 1960’s.  I remember being stunned by the violence I witnessed on both sides. The problems exposed by the Black Lives Matter movement are nonetheless quite real, and I hope the awakening leads to some enlightened solutions.  

Serenade In Isolation is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Vision By The Lake (1980)

for flute, viola, and harp

From 1981-84, I wrote and performed one concert of new original chamber music each season.  I would choose some colleagues with whom I wished to perform and then would write works using different combinations.  However, I never used the music I wrote for the first concert as it proved quite difficult both technically and logistically.  Three of the works, however, I later rescored for different combinations and circumstances, and they have been more successful.  Vision by the Lake (orig. Lullaby) was one of them.  The other two were Intermezzo (orig. Interlude) for double bass and piano (orig. harp), and Calypso Round (orig. for flute, horn, marimba, harp, and double bass) which I orchestrated in 2000.

Vision By The Lake was originally written for flute, horn, and harp.  I lay dormant until 1998, when it was suggested I rescore the horn part for viola so as to create more repertoire for the ensemble used by Debussy in his famous Sonata. The work is one of several works I wrote at the time which explored the intriguing structural dynamics presented by Minimalism.  I never was interested in the stylistics of Minimalism, but the idea of organizing music in structural layers I found fascinating.  

Originally, the gentle rocking of the music suggested a lullaby to me, but I think Vision By The Lake is a better title.  Though the gentle waves are rather hypnotic, there are events in the music which are more suggestive of mists and fleeting images common to lakes especially in the morning.  Some of the images might be rather less than friendly, but none of them I believe to be threatening.  

Vision By The Like is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.