On the Coming of War 

(Sonata for Viola & Piano)

Composed in: 2003
Instrumentation: Viola & Piano
Commissioned by: Natalie Limonick
for Pacific Serenades
Premiered by: Roland Kato, viola
Joanne Pearce Martin, piano
Publisher: Pacific Serenades

Program Notes

On the Coming of War was starting to incubate in my mind just when whispers of our going to war in Iraq began to grow louder, and I finished writing it as the invasion was taking place. Having come of age during the massive protests against the war in Viet Nam, I naively thought then and for many years that we actually would “overcome” and that war would soon become a relic of mankind’s past. I cannot express in words how depressed and disheartened I was that in 2003 this was clearly not the case, and for a while, I wondered if it was even worth it to write this piece: perhaps art was meaningless in a world so intent on solving its problems through violence.

The first movement, Elegy on the coming of war, expresses my horror, my depression better than any words could. It is fragmented in nature—almost nothing continues for very long, and a series of minor triads keeps recurring, sometimes evolving into more dissonant sonorities.

The second movement is the first of two invocations. This one, a war dance, is made up of two distinct types of music, an aggressive call to the gods to support us in our martial endeavor, followed by introspective, poignant music, which increasingly expresses the human anguish that is inevitably the result of war.

The final movement—the second invocation—begins with a sorrowful song, as if to implore the gods to put an end to war. Ending mournfully, it is answered with another song, a sort of lullaby offering comfort and, perhaps hope. I confess that I fought the inclusion of this song of comfort, wanting the piece to end in sorrow. But this melody kept entering my mind, as if insisting that it be included, and I relented. In spite of my feeling so disheartened about this war, it seems to be in my nature to remain hopeful. Besides, we just have to find a way to end war.

The piece was commissioned by Natalie Limonick for Pacific Serenades, and I wrote it for violist Roland Kato and pianist Joanne Pearce Martin, who premiered it on a Pacific Serenades program in May of 2003. They subsequently recorded it for the Pacific Serenades CD, War Scrap—that we may have peace.


Roland Kato, viola & Joanne Pearce Martin, piano