A Three Piece Suite (2003) by Wayne Peterson
for flute/alto flute/alto piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet,
violin, cello, piano, percussion
World premiere; Earplay/Koussevitzky commission

1. Out of the Blue
2. The Sunlight Thins, the View Empties (Han Yü, 824)
3. Gauntlet

A Three Piece Suite was commissioned by the Serge Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress and the Earplay Ensemble of San Francisco.

Out of the Blue is a joyful reminiscence of my youthful experience as a Bebop pianist. The emerging music of that period made an indelible impression upon me with its unprecedented — indeed eruptive — expansion of melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and technical vocabulary. Its mercurial nature was surely reflective of the volatile times brought about by World War II. This piece is not a typical 32-bar jazz tune followed by improvised variations. It is rather a work that treats Bebop material in a manner consistent with my own style. The music pursues no preconceived form. It emerges in a stream of consciousness. Recognizable motifs and rhythmic gestures, nevertheless, do recur and, as the pace increases, combine to produce a brilliant climax. There follows a gradual reduction of tempo that brings the movement to a tranquil conclusion.

The Sunlight Thins, the View Empties is a title chosen from a poem by Han Yü, a Chinese poet of the late Tang period. It seemed an appropriate verbal summary for what I had endeavored to express in music: the gradual ebbing of one’s vital forces as the years pass. This movement is contained in a large tripartite form. It opens mysteriously with a somewhat fragmentary but colorful dialogue between the alto flute and the bass clarinet. As the other instruments join in participation, the music becomes more sustained, leading directly to a middle section — a buoyant dance in triple time. Vacillating between contrapuntal and homophonic textures, a development of the dance motifs culminates in a resounding, fortissimo high point. An ensuing transition serves to dissipate the tension, gradually returning to the opening mood. This time the material is initially expanded only to fade away with progressively smaller fragments.

The final movement, Gauntlet, is essentially a programmatic conception that needs no technical or formal commentary. It deals with a frantic chase between a predator and its victim. The music is relentless in its intensity save for a few brief respites when the quarry mistakenly imagines that secure cover is at last acquired. These illusions, however, are abruptly shattered, and the pursuit resumes with renewed ferociousness until the inevitable moment when the victim stumbles and meets its demise in the clutches of the predator.

— W. P.    

[from program for November 5, 2007 concert]