A Dance Suite for Flute, Viola and Harp
Dream Steps was conceived as both a free-standing dance suite in five movements for flute, viola and harp as well as a chamber work to be danced (especially in small spaces, such as art galleries). Commissioned by the Mallarmé Chamber Players of Durham, North Carolina, in 1993 (with partial funding from the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency) and written in the same year, Langston Hughes’ five-part poem, “Lenox Avenue Mural”, was the extra-musical stimulus for the piece, suggesting elements of both symbolism and form. The World Premiere of Dream Steps danced occurred on 16 October 1993 at the Raleigh City Gallery of Contemporary Art in Raleigh, North Carolina with the Mallarmé Chamber Players and the dance duo, Two Near the Edge. It was premiered by Mallarmé as a non-danced chamber work on 24 October 1993 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
In five movements, each movement of DREAM STEPS makes use of the early German three-part (AAB) “bar form” (“ballade” to the French). Quotes and variants of an old German chorale tune and two Negro Spirituals (each in themselves displaying aspects of “bar form”) appear as integral parts of the piece. After the opening harp glissando, the first harp chord presents the tonal centers of each movement: C, E-flat, G, B-flat, C.
I. Barcaroles and Recitatives – In the spirit of Hughes’ poem reflecting two “musics”, the dreamy “Barcaroles” sections of this movement (based on a transposed Phrygian mode) are in direct contrast to the questioning, often biting, “Barcaroles” (based on the Pentatonic scale). With only a brief pause, I quickly leads to II.
II. Awakenings – Here, as counterpoints to each other emerging from a transposed Aeolian mode, hints of the German Protestant Advent chorale tune, “Wachet Auf” (“Wake, Awake for Night is Flying”) appear alongside with shadows of the well-known Negro Spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
III. Bars of Blues – Sharing common pitches from movements I and II, a blues scale is the basis of III, which combines a traditional 12-bar blues and “bar form”. “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” becomes ever more developed.
IV. Ballade in Sarabande – Based on a transposition of the Lydian mode, the triple-meter “sarabande” dance serves as a rhythmic counterpoint to the melodic basis of the piece that is taken from another Negro Spiritual, “There Is a Balm in Gilead”. IV. leads immediately to V.
V. Barcaroles – Based on the same Phrygian mode as I, V begins by recalling and then expanding the flowing, dreamy material of Movement I, yet minus the biting Recitatives.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.A.)