capriccio, for flute, clarinet, violin and cello (2019)

Duration: 24:00

Instrumentation: flute (piccolo), clarinet in b-flat, violin, cello

Premiere: December 14, 2019 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA by Hub New Music


Capriccio began as a response to the work of Hans Hofmann, the influential German-American artist and teacher. Hofmann’s best-known work is abstract, with great slabs of paint or simple shapes and lines that seldom represent anything directly, and the finest of these paintings are charged with intense emotion that is difficult to describe. Hofmann was clearly aware of the expressivity in his abstract art, giving his paintings evocative titles that demonstrate a poetic sensibility I found as irresistible as the images themselves. As much as I responded to Hofmann’s visual art when composing Capriccio, I also responded to these titles; I began to think of them as verbal frames to my musical canvas.

Capriccio is in three movements, borrowing their titles from Hofmann’s paintings. The first movement, Lonely Journey, begins as a ponderous funeral march and is transformed as it traverses an imagined landscape. The second movement, Pénombres du soir (Evening Twilight), is, like Hofmann’s painting, all about transitions between states. It begins with a shimmering, fragile texture and a sort of grotesque aria before transitioning into a scherzo – a flight of fancy that could have arisen in the space between waking and sleeping, between light and darkness. The final movement, Bacchanale–Phantasmagoria, takes its title from two paintings. The Bacchanale is a scene of wild revelry, loosely drawn from Balkan dance music. The music gets wilder and wilder leading to the brief Phantasmagoria that concludes the piece; in the final moments the music becomes a fever dream of all the images in the piece, finally collapsing in ecstatic exhaustion.