Starry Night 

Composed in: 1989
Instrumentation: String Quartet [Violins (2), Viola, Cello]
Commissioned by: Elizabeth H. Henderson
for Pacific Serenades
Premiered by: The Angeles String Quartet
Publisher: Pacific Serenades

Program Notes

Starry Night was commissioned by Elizabeth H. Henderson for Pacific Serenades and premiered by the Angeles String Quartet in 1989. It is an extended single movement which combines several disparate types of music—the opening misterioso material, “fear” music, a lullaby, a graceful waltz—interweaving them into a dramatic whole.

Though I took the title of the piece from Van Gogh’s painting (from which I have frequently derived inspiration), my Starry Night is otherwise not related. Rather, the piece began with an emotional/visual image: a person overcome by doubt and fear being consoled by the rays of a star, one among many in the sky. The star offers solace in the form of a recurring lullaby, returning each time in a different key. After its first appearance, the graceful waltz begins, only to be interrupted by the “fear” music (originally from a short piece called Afraid), which involves the same pitches, chords, and gestures each time it appears. It seems to always have the upper hand—interrupting and obliterating everything else—until, in a gesture of defiance, it is abruptly transformed into a “happy” version of the same music. It is as if the person throws off the yoke of fear, allowing the completion of the interrupted waltz, which then blossoms into an exuberant dance. This is followed by a decorated version of the lullaby, after which the piece recedes into the night in a more peaceful version of the opening misterioso music.