Semi-Finalist - 2015 Rapido! Composition Competition
Duration: 6 minutes
This brief and energetic work was written as an entry to the national 2015 Rapido! Composition Competition. The competition calls for composers to write a new work within a 14-day time frame with the organizers providing the formal design of the piece and its instrumentation. While not usually prone to writing new compositions without a commission or some guarantee of performance, I nevertheless decided to enter this particular competition due to its enticing award. On the morning of June 8, 2015, I received my notification that the competition called for a ”theme and variations” written for clarinet, violin and piano not to exceed six minutes in total duration. After thinking about the work for a day, I began composing on June 9 and completed the piece nine days later.
In thinking about the formal design of a “theme and variations” scheme, it quickly occurred to me that history is replete with variations on the same themes endlessly replaying themselves. I knew I wanted to explore this connection and was reminded particularly of an interesting article I had read sometime ago in the in the February 21, 2013 edition of The Daily Beast news blog. Megan McArdle’s opinion piece entitled America’s New Mandarins posits the notion that the paths of power and success in the United States are narrowing and with them, the world-view of the powerful. She describes this situation as the “Mandarization of America.” Mandarins were powerful officials in Chinese imperial bureaucracy. While entrance into this class was technically open to anyone, only those who could pass a very rigorous exam were accepted. To quote Ms. McArdle, “What you have is…a country run by people who think being good at exams is the most important thing on earth. Sound familiar?” Sadly, it does and the remainder of the intriguing article draws compelling comparisons between the old Chinese imperial system and trends surfacing in modern America.
Having found my inspiration, I first composed my main “theme;” a 34-bar melody comprised of three sections. The melody is bright and energetic and, for me at least, illustrative of the bright elite class of students who test well and are entering into our own American “mandarin class.” However, as the melody progresses, succeeding sections contain underpinnings of dissonance that express my misgivings about the new emerging elites. Just as the trope of “mandarization” repeats in variation throughout history, my energetic melody undergoes six variations over time. The first two variations develop the main melodic idea (the “A” section) presented at the beginning of the piece. The third variation concerns itself with the “B” section of my melody; a rising motive of perfect fifths. The fourth and fifth variations explore the “C” section of my melody; somewhat dissonant figures derived from an insistent repeated note motive that represents my nagging concerns about the elite class emerging in the United States. The sixth and final variation returns to the “A” section of the melody in its most energetic manifestation to round out the composition.
The piece was selected as a Semi-Finalist in the Rapido! Competition and premiered by the Atlanta Chamber Players on October 27, 2015.