Charles-Marie Widor William Thomas McKinley Gardner Read Vittorio Rieti Ezra Sims

Gardner Read

Five Aphorisms for Violin and Piano, op. 150 (1991)

Born 2 January 1913, Evanston, Illinois.
Died 10 November 2005, Manchester-by-the-Sea.


Composed on commission from Janet Packer, the Five Aphorisms were designed to be the opening work on her 1993 recital tour.  In order to provide an essential contrast to the formalism and relatively conservative tonal and rhythmical structures of Franz Schubert’s Fantasie, D. 934, that was to follow, these brief aphoristic interpretations are mainly pantonal as well as being rhythmically complex.  They freely exploit the varied coloristic capabilities of both instruments, their style veering between the domains of expressionism and impressionism.  The first performance of the Five Aphorisms took place on 26 February 1993, at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.  Subsequent performances were given in Milwaukee and Madiscon, Wisconsin; Nashua, New Hampshire; Boston, Carlisle, Still River, and South Yarmouth, Massachusetts; and New York City.

I. “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.”
(Publilius Syros, first century B.C.): Molto vivo e feroce assai (very fast and with great ferocity) is the tempo directive to the performers.  The music’s unrelenting drive and notable storminess are meant to suggest the ancient Greek gods’ implacable bestowal of madness on the mortals they wish to destroy.

II. “Pains of love be sweeter far than all other pleasures are.”
(John Dryden, 1631-1800): Moderato assai, con molto calore (in a moderate tempo, with great warmth); the mood is rhapsodic and lyrical, expressing the bittersweet emotions of love evoked by Dryden’s familiar words.

III. “He that plants thorns must never expect to gather roses.”
(Anonymous, ca. 500 A.D.): Allegretto scherzoso (lightly and scherzo-like); this movement is a tour de force of varied violin pizzicato techniques.  The strings are alternatively plucked with the player’s fingertip, fingernail, and thumb, as well as being violently snapped against the instrument fingerboard.  These highly percussive effects are imitated by equally spiky outbursts from the piano.

IV. “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
(Edgar Allen Poe, 1809-1849): Lento e lontano (slowly, as from far-off) is the directive here, the music intended to reflect the dreamlike visions that fill the poet’s musings.

V. “Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling of a star.”
(Francis Thompson, 1859-1907): Andantino, anzi flessibile (moderately slow and quite flexible).  This final aphoristic interpretation attempts to mirror the philosophical thoughts of the writer as he contemplates the interaction between terrestrial flower and galactic star.

—Gardner Read



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