Allen Brings

Reflections for flute, violin & cello

Although I had been acquainted with the work of Paul Klee for the better part of my life, until I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in April, 2010, when one of several exhibits of his work was being shown there, I was never aware of the musicality of his paintings, their ability to elicit musical responses. On that occasion I found myself drawn as by an unseen force to a painting he called Fast getroffen — nearly hit. Before I had reached it I began to imagine the kind of music it seemed to suggest, deciding even that it had to be scored for an ensemble consisting only of a flute, a violin, and a cello. The nature of the initial musical gesture, if not the exact pitches and rhythms, was clear to me as was the general character of the rest of the piece. Aware that any piece resulting from this interaction would be too short for performance by itself, I began to look for another example by Klee that might elicit a similar response and found it only a few feet away in the next room. It was Rotes Villenquartier — red villa quarter, and the first sounds I heard were those of the cello played roughly, even coarsely, in its dark, lowest register. Having now found the sources of the first two movements of what I realized would have to become a three-movement suite, I set about to find a third painting and discovered it in a book intended for children entitled Dreaming Pictures. It was a reproduction of a painting Klee called Rose Wind. About it the German author of the text, Jürgen von Schemm, wrote, “You can’t paint wind. But you can draw lines to show how the wind moves.” A little further he also wrote, “It seems as though we can actually hear the wind whistling around the rose in the middle of the picture,” an observation I had already made before I had read his remark. That Klee had learned to play the violin when he was very young came as no surprise but that his work could have such a productive effect on me did.

My intention in composing Reflections, however, was not to trace the motion apparent in Klee’s paintings (so obvious in Rose Wind but also apparent in the expression on the face of the character depicted in Fast getroffen, in which we see the expression at the moment it is becoming an expression, not merely after it has become one) but rather to record my reactions upon seeing the paintings and the musically conceived thoughts that followed from them. Reflections then is not an example of program music or of a kind of background music designed to accompany one’s viewing of the paintings. As Klee obeyed the laws of art which he had learned while painting, so I obeyed the laws of music as I had learned them while composing. It is my hope that those who listen to Reflections will reflect on my work as I did on Klee’s.

Images for flute, clarinet & piano

It was only after I had already begun to compose the music that an appropriate title for this work occurred to me. It was the nature of the music rather than something I had seen or even imagined that drew me to what I realized was the suggestiveness of the music as it was unfolding. The melodic lines of the instruments evoked the lines that an artist might draw on paper or canvas; in the harmonic relationships between these lines I sensed a kind of three-dimensional depth that artists are able to convey even on a flat surface; in the timbres of the instruments as they pass from register to register I imagined the tints and shades an artist might select in conveying reflected light; by how the musicians would articulate the tones they played I imagined a painter’s varied brush strokes. Not long after I had completed the composition of Images I learned that there were painters who were also aware of a relationship between what is seen and what is heard when I discovered the musical qualities inherent in the work of Paul Klee and then composed a piece I called Reflections that attempted to convey these.

If the music of Images suggests concrete images to some, it may convey more elusive qualities to others. It was never my intention to compose program music in the manner of many Romantics who sometimes even imitated the sounds of nature in their work. The artistic life of Images, as I have conceived it, rests principally in the minds of those equally at ease in both the world of sight and the world of sound. Yet it cannot be denied that one can understand and enjoy this music without being aware of any of the qualities that I have suggested might be present. That way may be to appreciate the ever-changing character of the music as it intensifies and relaxes during the course of the work thus reflecting the kind of emotional life that we experience in our daily lives.

Four Meditations sur

For violin and viola

My purpose in leaving the title of 4 Méditations sur incomplete was to invite the listener to reflect on whatever the music might suggest but not to try to discover what I, the composer, may have had in mind in composing it. The music can be heard as a meditation itself or it might refer only to the mental and emotional state of the listener who is actively listening to it. The characters of the four pieces are very diverse; indeed two of them are quite lively, suggesting that contemplation can be about anything and that its purpose is not merely to induce a state of “suspended animation.” Bernini understood very well that strong emotions might accompany meditation when he depicted St. Teresa of Avila in a state of ecstacy in his famous sculpture. I will consider my 4 Méditations successful if it encourages heightened awareness in those who listen to it but a failure if it causes them to fall asleep!