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.

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.