Of Earth for Bassoon and Orchestra (Piano Reduction)
Commissioned by Richard Hall
Duration: 9 minutes
This piece was commissioned many years ago by Richard Hall, during my time of study at Eastern New Mexico University. This is the most difficult piece I have ever written. Not to say the technical demands are the most difficult I have ever written (though they are not easy in that regard), but rather that this piece was very hard for me to compose. I do not know why. I have a reputation for being able to write swiftly, but for some reason this piece has always been a challenge for me to complete. It took many years to finish this final version, which was only ever meant to be the second movement of a larger three movement work for orchestra. More versions of this piece have seen the trash bin that any other composition I have ever worked on. I hope one day to release what was intended to be the first movement, once I am able to complete it, as I think it would be a successful companion piece to Of Earth. Eventually, I told myself to stop smashing my head against the wall, and to let this movement just be.
Of Earth is meant to be an epic musical narrative (think of if Homer’s Odyssey was a tone poem). The bassoon is the primary character, with the orchestra serving as a variety of small and large cast and chorus members throughout the story. The emotional content covers a variety of topics, and is a reflection of the intense moods I was experiencing at the time; I was in graduate school, further away from my family than I have ever been, living a city life I was entirely unfamiliar with. Despite having many friends, I often felt alone and overwhelmed. However, there were beautiful times, too, where the metaphorical clouds would part and the sun would shine its warmth on my heart; those moments, too, find their way into this piece.
The solo bassoon is meant to be amplified when played with the full orchestra, but not when played with the piano reduction. I had many an argument with some of my professors at the University of Texas about this, specifically those who were traditionalists and technology-aversive. Being a recording engineer for almost a decade, and understanding that technology is the way of the future, I see no issue in using technology as a tool to open up possibilities that otherwise could not exist. By using amplification, the bassoonist can perform against the full ensemble in the piece’s most intense and energetic moments.
That being said, the bassoon is not always meant to be heard. The piece was carefully written and designed with the soloist serving two roles. When the soloist acts as the narrator, the ensemble is out of the way, underpinning the story in a subdued fashion. When the soloist acts as the protagonist, the ensemble either acts complimentary or as the antagonist in the musical narrative. There were moments in writing this work that I felt I was screaming at the top of my voice and yet no one was listening to me, and moments near the end of this piece are orchestrated in such a way to communicate that feeling. Much of the drama of this piece will happen visually, not just aurally, and to see the bassoonist struggle to be heard against the full orchestra is part of the story I mean to tell. With that being said, the levels of the amplification should be set just so that the soloist can be heard in the thicker orchestrations, but not at the thickest and loudest of them.