The Paris Quintet was written during a summer residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2004. For a fourth time I spent the summer living and composing in the city of dreams. In 1998 I approached Paris as a new love. I returned to her the next year as an old familiar confidant. I strolled her familiar streets, shared experiences with her and watched as she turned from spring to fall. Over the last several years we have formed a lasting relationship. Like many relationships it has its ups and downs. But like a good relationship it is beautiful and eternal.
My routine while in Paris, if you can call it routine, is very simple. My studio is alongside the Seine. I take frequent strolls, eat a lot of bread and discuss the care and feeding of contemporary art with my artist neighbors. I compose in my studio as well as at various parks throughout Paris. I always carry my score with me, ready to stop and compose when the urge strikes. And it frequently strikes. I have even written within Notre Dame.
The city of Paris is divided by the meandering Seine. Historically, commercial activities were relegated to the right bank, or rive droite, and scholastic pursuits were found on the left bank, or rive gauche. It on the left that one finds numerous universities, including the Sorbonne, as well as the Latin Quarter, Luxembourg Garden and Montparnasse. And it is here that I love to walk the streets, soaking up the atmosphere that so inspired the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce.
The title of the first movement of the quintet is Rive Gauche. It begins with a slow prelude, introducing several themes that will be heard throughout the entire work. The introductory material is followed by a romping allegro, complete with stride effects in the ensemble. There are two contrasting themes. One is highly rhythmically charged, full of syncopation and crunching dissonances. The second theme is more lyrical and is first heard in the cello accompanied by soft block chords on the piano. A development follows as both themes are bandied about until all hell breaks loose in a rip-snorting coda.
The second movement, L'aube sur la Seine, reflects the Seine as the sun rises, tranquil but bursting with promise. Before Paris awakens there is a calm across the city. And nowhere is it more evident than on the shimmering Seine. This slow movement begins with a sixteen measure theme presented by the clarinet with soft piano accompaniment. A set of variations follows.
The finale is off and running from the first note repetitive notes of the clarinet. The music is marked “with constant energy.” Every summer on the longest day of the year Paris celebrates Fête de la Musique. The city is overflowing with music. Every street corner features a different band and the revelry goes on throughout the night. This final movement of the sonata attempts to express the feeling of excitement as I wandered through the night following the sounds. There are two main ideas which weave in and out much as I did that music-filled night.
Wrapped within the sonata are many feelings and experiences of my summer overlooking the Seine. Paris is truly a city of dreams…in all senses. One cannot help but be affected by her.