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J. Lee Graham

[LIVE RECORDING] Divertimento a 3 in F, for 2 Violins and Violoncello

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Divertimento a 3 in F, for 2 Violins and Violoncello

I.          Allegretto grazioso  (3/8)

II.         Andante  (2/4)

III.        Allegro giusto, alla breve  (cut time)

Composed:  2011

Style:  Classical, circa 1790

This work is the first of two such divertimenti for this instrumentation I have composed to date, the second of which having been written and posted here just recently.  I consider it one of my more charming and attractive works – a personal favourite – and among my most ingenious, a tour de force of development and counterpoint (of which I am very proud) without being obvious about it.  One hardly realizes that motives are continually being developed throughout both the first and second movements, in as unassuming a manner as possible.  It is in three movements, and lasts 10-½ minutes.        

Description:

The first movement (Allegretto grazioso), in Sonata-Allegro form, opens with a lilting, graceful theme of rising steps that ascend the scale in slurred pairs, followed by a series of descending scales in skittering triplets, and a few “sighing” gestures, that together I feel form one of my prettiest melodies.  From it are then extracted the following three discrete motives that are developed almost constantly throughout the movement:

I. Motive 1.jpg I. Motive 2.jpgI. Motive 3.jpg

The playful second theme contrasts with the elegance of the first before a pair of turns and a florid cadence transform it into something more refined.  The development section further explores the possibilities of the various motives around a central sequence, and culminates in a rising and falling series of coupled steps (motive 1) on a pedal tone that brings the music to a very satisfying return of the opening theme in the recapitulation.     

The second movement (Andante), in binary form, is in the subdominant key of B-flat, and opens with a coquettish theme from which, as in the first movement, are extracted the following two discrete motives that are developed elsewhere in the movement:

II. Motive 1.jpgII. Motive 2.jpg

This theme is then repeated in the tonic minor, and through a surprising modulation makes its way to the movement’s dominant key of F.  There is no second theme per se, but rather a contrapuntal development of the foregoing motives.           

The third and final movement (Allegro giusto, alla breve) is a rollicking, rather wacky fugue (how often does one hear those words together?) on a jaunty subject, beginning on a syncopation, and characterized by an unexpected, dissonant suspension, accented sforzando for humourous effect.  The bass line to the subject, introduced in the ‘cello, is worked canonically into the entire exposition as if it were a second subject; hence the exposition functions much like a double fugue, though it doesn’t continue that way.  I didn’t take the construction of this fugue too seriously (this was not a counterpoint exercise in earnest), being more interested in keeping it light and quirky; and although the subject begins on the fifth degree of the scale, I decided against the pedantic complexity of devising a tonal answer in the exposition – though otherwise it proceeds conventionally for the most part.  Passing dissonances run rampant, and transitions and modulations are often purposely abrupt, taking unexpected turns intended to raise eyebrows, and a smile or two.  After a final sequence on a pedal tone and a truncated statement of the subject, even though it feels like the movement should continue, in a rush it throws itself headlong to a sudden, crashing finish as if it hit a brick wall at a run.  This is probably the oddest piece of counterpoint I’ve ever written, but I feel the jocular treatment of what is usually by its nature a serious form contrasts well with the sunny warmth and charm of the previous two movements.

Premiere:

This work was premiered in July 2016 by members of the Octava Chamber Orchestra, a community orchestra in the Seattle, Washington area, as part of a unique concert of Baroque and Classical music by living historicist composers.  Although I regret I could not attend the performance, I did receive the recording of it that I have posted here below.  The outer movements are played a bit too slowly, and there are some mistakes and inaccuracies; but I’m gratified that the players took the piece seriously and made a sincere attempt at a sensitive interpretation.  Overall, it’s one of the better performances I’ve ever received, and I’m quite pleased (to say nothing of being honoured, and very fortunate).

Musicians’ and Audience Feedback:

My contact with Octava, who played 2nd Violin at the premiere, told me that the musicians loved the piece.  Though they found it somewhat challenging here and there, they said it was well written for the instruments and a real pleasure to play, just as I had hoped; divertimenti are supposed to be fun!  It was the first work on the programme, and was very warmly received by the audience.

Thank you for your kind attention, and enjoy!

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I enjoyed it, especially the last fugal movement! Indeed you are fortunate that there are groups which perform living composers' work in an older style. A live performance, no matter with some inaccuracies, is always to be treasured!

I have some questions out of curiosity, if you are willing to share:

1) How did you decide to compose in the "classical, circa 1790" style? Was it a conscious decision or a natural, non-deliberate choice?

2) I wonder how you developed your language in this 1790 style? What compositions by what composers did you analyze and make your own? Mozart's influence/language was evident. This was also the opinion of a family member who liked it asked if it was Mozart!

It is interesting to know that there is a movement of "historicist composers" composing in the old classical styles. Congratulations!

 

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Thank you so much for listening and commenting!  I’m really pleased you enjoyed it, because it was meant to bring pleasure to player and listener alike, so I have accomplished my primary goal.  And I’m glad you got a kick out of the fugue.  Of the three movements, the first is probably my favourite for aesthetic and technical reasons; but after that it would probably be that screwy fugue.  It may not follow all the rules to the letter, and I knew that as I was writing it; but what it lacks in propriety, it makes up for in personality – by 18th Century standards, kind of like the kooky, loud uncle with embarrassing manners and no filter who cracks dirty jokes at the holiday table in front of your grandmother, but who makes you smile, and is all the more endearing for his eccentricity.  And yes, I do treasure any live performance I receive, especially if I can tell that the musicians really cared about what they were doing.  Even if it’s not perfect, it’s still so much more “real” than anything I could ever make a machine do.  I’m getting more and more performances in recent years, and I’m blessed and grateful.      

To answer your thoughtful questions:

1.  I have been composing since I was 9 years old, and I wrote in a more-or-less Classical style, as I understood it, from the very beginning.  It was not a decision I made, it was innate, as if it was simply part of who I was.  Most of my first attempts have been lost, but in my earliest piece still extant, a Sonatina in F for piano I wrote when I was 10, the Classical style is already pure and unmistakable.  The aesthetic of Classical-style music has always appealed to me and spoken to me more than any other kind of music.  My mother introduced me to “Classical” music in the more general sense listening to it on the radio, and though I have no memory of when I first heard a Classical-style piece, it evidently made an indelible impression on me.  As I became more aware, of all the music I heard on Mom’s radio, Classic-style works always made my ears perk up more – particularly Beethoven early on.  It’s not surprising then that when I started composing, it might have seemed that I sprang from the womb with a Classical aesthetic hard-wired into my creative mind.     

2. First off, it must be understood that aside from a semester of harmony lessons in high school, I am entirely self-taught - not that anyone teaches what I and other historicists do anyway.  I developed my Classical style by trial and error, listening to the works of composers I liked, studying scores when they were available (well before the internet) and trying to do what they did in my own way.  

I’m fond of saying, “Beethoven was my childhood sweetheart, and Mozart was my first true love; but Haydn is my soulmate.”  I was very interested in Beethoven’s early piano music as a child, and against my piano teacher’s advice, I forced myself to learn the first movement of his so-called “Moonlight Sonata” at 10, having had less than 2 years of piano lessons.  I can’t say Beethoven was much of an influence on my early writing though; he was far too advanced for me to absorb at that age.  I found him more impressive than anything else.  I discovered Mozart a little later, and instantly idolized him, listening to everything of his I could get my hands on and trying to do what he did, again in my own way.  I never really wanted to imitate any of my models; I just wanted to learn from them to express my own thoughts authentically in the manner they did, and Classical-style thoughts have always come to me naturally anyway, then and now.  I attended a performance of Mozart’s opera “Le Nozze di Figaro” at 14 that truly changed my life, and I would say of all his works, I have been affected by it the most.  I also learnt a great deal listening to his symphonies, and his chamber music - especially the string quartets, having played every one of them as a chamber musician at one time or another.  I got to know Haydn playing in a quartet in high school, and he became an important influence as well, though not immediately as much so as Mozart.             

As I have gotten older, the more I study Haydn, the more he seems to me to be the ultimate embodiment of the Classical aesthetic – reserved, rational, enlightened, orderly, yet certainly not without feeling, and with a distinct personality and humour withal.  Mozart’s style is outwardly Classical in all technical respects, but in expression he was ahead of his time.  At his best, he’s so exquisite he makes me weep for joy and awe, but to elicit that kind of effusive outpouring of emotion is not a Classical ideal.  Haydn, on the other hand, has never made me weep, but his music is inspired, brilliantly crafted, and absolutely beautiful in its own way, while remaining entirely faithful to Classical ideals.  I identify with that more now, so it’s not surprising that lately I have been more influenced by Haydn.  I’m also fond of saying, “I listen to Mozart, and I’m quite certain he’s the greatest composer who ever lived.  Then I listen to Haydn, and I’m not so sure.”

I have been influenced by many other 18th and early 19th Century composers over the years, but those were my main models.  Beyond that, I cannot readily articulate how exactly I developed my style.  45 years of trial-and-error, listening intently, studying, and always comparing what I was doing to what they did, was how I came to where I am.  I strive for correctness and authenticity, but I sometimes fail, and I’ve been called out on my mistakes; but once I get over being ashamed that there was something I didn’t know, I use those occasions as an opportunity to learn more and do better, making new music with old tools, as I like to think of it.  

I’m really flattered that someone in your family mistook me for Mozart!  That tells me I’m on the right track.  Now I just have to figure out why when I cut and paste text from another application, it shows up here in BOLD, and I can't toggle it off.  LOL!  Thanks again, and cheers!  

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