composition

Cat and Bird: Concertant Music after Paul Klee

for flute & chamber orchestra

  • Genre
    Solo Instrument with Orchestra
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Bloomington Symphony Orchestra
  • Year completed
    1999
  • Year revised
  • Timing
    8:30
  • Catalog number
    167
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  • 2
    known performances
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The Bloomington Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1970 by Geoffrey Simon, at the time a conducting student at Indiana University, and his friend, pianist Tamas Ungar. Having played violin in the orchestra since 1983, I began thinking in 1999 about a work to help the orchestra celebrate its 30th anniversary, my friend Stephen W. Ellis of Glenview, Illinois, knowing the my affinity for felines, suggested a work based on a Paul Klee painting entitled Cat and Bird. Ellis, who also suggested the title for the present work, and I share an admiration for the work of this prolific Swiss artist, who died in 1940, and whose paintings have inspired more musical compositions than have those of any other artist. The painting on which the present work is based shows the face of a cat in vivid colors. A bird, as if in the cat's thoughts, is drawn in the middle of the cat's forehead. In setting this painting to music, I did not attempt to depict cats or birds in any overt manner, other than using a brief quotation of the cat's theme from Peter and the Wolf in the clarinet, and the use of the flute as the solo instrument. What I attempted to depict, rather, is the formation of an idea and the action precipi- tated by the idea. The work consequently begins with a slow and static introduction representing the formation of an idea. As the idea begins to take shape, the cat meditates upon it, becoming transfixed by the thought of the bird. As the tempo of the piece increases, one realizes that the idea has become an obsession, controlling every fiber of the cat's being. In the end, in a violent conclusion, this fixation demands action, and the cat, unable to contain himself any longer, takes the action intrinsic to his nature. The listener will doubtless perceive the fate of the bird depicted in the work's final measures. Naturally, the thesis of an idea producing consequential action extends far beyond felines and aviary specimens, so the piece can be viewed in the larger context as encompassing all of creation including humanity. Cat and Bird is scored for solo flute, clarinet, tuned percussion (vibraphone, marimba, chimes, glockenspiel, timpani), and solo and tutti strings, the solo strings being used chiefly in coloristic fashion.

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