An American Quintet 

Composed in: 1997
Instrumentation: Violins (2), Violas (2), Cello
Commissioned by: Jack & Florence Irving
for Pacific Serenades
Premiered by: Martin Chalifour, violin
Margaret Batjer, violin
Roland Kato, viola
Connie Kupka, viola
David Speltz, cello
Publisher: Pacific Serenades

Program Notes

I always think of myself as a distinctly American composer:  though my musical training was firmly in the tradition of European "classical" music, I have also relished living in a culture that offers many musical possibilities.  I grew up enjoying classical music, the popular music of my own youth as well as of earlier times, folk music, and jazz, among others kinds, and my music often reflects these varied roots.

And Am I Born to Die? is the opening line of an early 19th-century American folk hymn, the tune of which is the basis for my first movement.  The text speaks of mixed feelings about dying, but there is no dichotomy in the tune: it is undeniably mournful, and it is that quality which I chose to augment.

The second movement is an homage to one of my personal and musical idols, Ella Fitzgerald, who died the year before I wrote this piece.  Her album, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, had been an inspiration to me over the past 20 years, and it literally changed the way that I thought about contemporary music composition when I first heard it. Though the piece has some elements of a song she might have sung, it diverges from that model more often than not.  Rather than an imitation of her work, it is meant as an expression of admiration and gratitude.

The final movement is a Lark in that it is a playful synthesis of a variety of styles—North American, South American, and European.