Evocations: Four after Matisse for saxophone quartet was commissioned by the MANA Quartet to be part of their Sight and Sound project and was premiered by them at the Festival of New American Music in Sacramento, CA, on November 14, 2014.
Each movement of Evocations: Four after Matisse is inspired by one of Henri Matisse’s paintings.
The first movement is reflective of Matisse’s painting Luxe, Calme et Volupté (Luxury, Calm and Pleasure) from 1904. It is the final work of Matisse’s
“Pointillist” or more appropriately named “Divisionist” period and is illustrative of Matisse’s often quoted phrase, “What I dream of is an art of balance,
or purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.” The human figures by the waterside are indeed peaceful, innocent-looking and
playful. The soprano saxophone carries a lyrical melody throughout most of the movement over gently repeating motives and trills in the lower
instruments, whose notes are articulated with a light slap tongue.
The second movement is evocative of La Danse (Dance), painted in 1910 during Matisse’s early Fauve period. Five primitive-looking nude figures in a
circle dance are depicted in a strong red color against a background of green, with deep blue sky. The musical movement likewise is also rather “in
your face” and employs original material along with French folk-dance tunes, often imitating the sound of cabrettes, which sound a bit like small
bagpipes, and other folk instruments.
The third Matisse work chosen, Femme devant un bol de poisson (Woman Before a Fish Bowl), was painted in 1922 in a realist style, perhaps a
reaction against expressionism and abstraction. Consisting of a grayish-blue background behind a contemporary-looking 1920’s woman gazing
disinterestedly into a goldfish bowl, the work is probably symbolic of the melancholy mood of post-World War I Europe. The slow-moving music with
repeating harmonic ground reflects this “blue” mood which is amplified further by the occasional “bent” notes.
The fourth painting, Pianiste et joueurs de dames (Pianist and Checker Players) was painted only two years later, in 1924, but could hardly be more
different in style. It is one of Matisse’s “family portraits”, set in his Nice apartment; in the absence of his family, Matisse uses stand-in models for his
daughter, playing the piano, and his two sons, playing a game of checkers. While these two-dimensional figures’ activities sound serene enough, the
highly contrasting wallpapers, oriental carpet and other background objects viewed from different angles are extremely busy and rhythmic. Add to this
motion the downward “pull” of the lower portion of the painting and there is a plethora of activity. Influenced also by an account by Henri’s son, Pierre,
as to what an actual scene with piano and checker players would evolve into at the Matisse household, the composer was motivated to employ a variety
of very “active” thematic materials, presented in a highly layered “counterpoint of characters”, rather helter-skelter at times.
An additional note of interest is that in 1941, Pianiste et joueurs de dames was one of the paintings confiscated from Jewish collections and transferred
to Nazi Hermann Goring’s personal art gallery in Paris. The painting was fortunately recovered and returned to its owner in 1946; it now resides in the
National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Date of completion: October 30, 2014; Approximate Duration: 20′
Commissioned by the MANA Quartet, to whom the work is dedicated.
E.C. Schirmer Music Company, Inc.
available from sheetmusicplus.com
or call E.C. Schirmer toll-free:1-800-777-1919
Notes from http://clareshore.com/