Harlequin (2014)

For "Pierrot Plus" ensemble (fl/picc, cl, vn, vc, pno, & perc)
Dedicated to Brent Milam and the Terminus Ensemble
Duration: 8'30"

Program Note:

Harlequin was composed partially as a creative component to my honors thesis which I wrote on timbral processes in Webern’s Symphonie op. 21, mvt. 1. In the paper, I argue that Webern’s treatment of timbre can be heard as an unfolding timbral narrative over the course of the piece which ultimately helps shape the formal structure of the work. My aim with Harlequin was to weave a timbral narrative of my own throughout the piece and link that narrative to the over-arching formal design. The title comes from a painting of the same name (from 1923) by Pablo Picasso that I viewed at the Pompidou Centre while on a visit to Paris. In the portrait, Picasso strangely uses color only on the face of the man while the rest of the body has the appearance of a sketch. I thought this technique of withholding color was interesting in light of my recent pondering of how musical color can help shape a formal structure. The piece, which essentially utilizes an A-B-A’ form, travels in and out of different sets of timbres throughout the A section. Each of the timbre sets “withholds” the clearest sonorities of each instrument to one degree or another and it is only in the B section of the work (the “face”, if you will) that the brightest, clearest colors appear. As the musical material from the A section is recapitulated in the A’ section, the timbre sets reappear but in retrograde, suggesting to the listener that the timbral narrative is just as important to the piece as the harmonic narrative.


Pablo Picasso, Arlequin assis (Seated Harlequin), 1923.