Domination of Black
Instrumentation: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, viola, cello, percussion, piano
Duration: 8 minutes
Date of Composition: 2015
Written for Chamber Cartel
Years ago, while taking an accompanying class in undergrad, two of my colleagues were working on the Brahms Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 78. It is piece that continues to floor me. Of the many astonishingly beautiful moments throughout, the piano chords at the outset have always been of particular interest. Brahms takes simple triads and voices them perfectly—the register, the spacing of the notes, the way those chords provide a buoyant cushion over which the violin melody stretches out—all of these elements combine to create something sublime.
In a way, I’ve been trying to live within the world of those chords for some time now. Brahms’ chords serve a traditional role in harmonizing a melody, and yet, is the melody necessary? More simply put, can chords, these monolithic musical creatures, rome free?
Domination of Black is taken from a poem of the same title by Wallace Stevens. The notion of a singular color exerting “dominance” reminds me of a James Turrell exhibit I once attended. For one of Turrell’s pieces, I entered a room that seemed pitch black. My eyes, however, adjusted and I realized there was a light sculpture in the corner. The darkness, once absorbed, provided a focus that illuminated so much subtlety.
Out of the window,
I saw how the planets gathered
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
I saw how night came,
Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks
I felt afraid.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.
(closing stanza to Domination of Black by Wallace Stevens)