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Stephen Brown: Compositions

White Light White Heat

(2014 - 15)
Piano Quintet No. 2
White Light White Heat and Ouroboros Form

White Light White Heat is a five movement work 40 minutes in length. The movements form an arch, but also, are similar to an ouroboros. Movements I and V are very fast, loud, and aggressive and express similar emotions. They are both about 3 & 1/2 minutes long. Movements II (10 minutes) and Movement IV (7 minutes) are fugal, slow, quiet, and intense. Movement III (9 minutes), the top of the arch, is mid-tempo and lyrical with two slow interior sections.

Mvt. I. After a 16 measure introduction the movement settles into three large sections, all in A minor, that alternate smaller A & B sections [AAB, AAB, AACoda–the Coda contains elements of B]. The A sections are varied melodically. The variations are shared between the viola, violin I, and violin II. The B sections are similar though the cello does have melodic variations.

Mvt. II is a double fugue in C minor - sort of. The first theme, very slow and quite chromatic, is presented twice in the strings creating a double exposition. The piano then presents theme two, a full fugue, quite fast and robust, in 16th notes, while the strings fall silent. In the final section the two themes (groups) attempt to integrate but do so somewhat unsuccessfully. The inability to find a common purpose or ground creates conflict in this section. The piano gives unity one last try at measure 111, but the disobliging strings will have nothing to do with him. The piano, fed up with the strings, goes home. This pleases the strings as they are now free to take up the piano theme and complete the movement, first with a great deal of stretti, and then, as at the beginning of the movement, with a long cello solo.

Mvt. III is a lengthy mid-tempo aria in C major (A), that is interspersed with two lyrical slow sections for piano that are followed by a faster repeated note chordal string section (B). The movement wraps up with a slow coda that uses harmonics (A1, B1, A2, B2, A3, Coda). The strings are at the forefront in the aria while the piano supports them with arpeggios. The main theme is presented after a brief introduction by the violins in parallel harmony. Two variations follow, again in the violins with them playing off one another as two electric guitars would in a rock band - taking solos. The violins are finally joined by the viola and cello at measure 29 as the whole string band takes the main theme in harmony. The first piano slow section at M. 45 is quite short and in the distant key of E flat major. It then moves to E major when the repeated chordal strings enter. The rest of the movement has a similar structure. However the variations are taken by different string groups and the second contrasting piano slow section is in A minor and considerably longer.

Mvt. IV in three sections, returns to quiet slow fugal writing. It opens with a three-voice exposition, immediately followed by a coda, for piano, cello, and viola in C minor. A second three-voice exposition, immediately followed by a coda (using the same theme) for piano, violin II, and violin I in D minor follows. The final section is a four-voice fugue, for the strings alone, in E minor with a new but similar theme. Midway through this section the first theme returns in stretto, in all four voices, before the final coda in E major which uses the full quintet.

Mvt. V returns to the composition's opening key of A minor. Again, as in movement I, it uses similar themes and emotions, and again, as in movement I, it uses a similar structure.

When all five movements are considered, the form is a musical ouroboros.

Stephen Brown

Commissioned by the Victoria Conservatory of Music
to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Premiere Performance
Gwen Hoebig - violin
Müge Büyükçelen - violin
Michael van der Sloot - viola
Hanna Addario-Berry - cello
Robert Holliston - piano
May 31, 2015
Alix Goolden Performance Hall
Victoria Conservatory of Music
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Five movements
Duraion 40:00

Swan House Victoria SJB 1363A
Score and parts: $40.00