Lee Hyla, We Speak Etruscan (1992)

The creation of We Speak Etruscan was initiated by saxophonist Tim Berne over a beer with the composer at the Great Jones Cafe in New York City. The work is dedicated to Berne, bass clarinetist Tim Smith, and Norm Roberson, portiere and Etruscan enthusiast and tour guide at the American Academy in Rome. The piece represents the latest chapter in a large body of work written by the composer involving Smith in an artistic friendship that has spanned twenty years. The piece was written in 1992 in New York in the year following Hyla's Rome Prize residency at the Academy, and was premiered by Berne and Smith in 1993 at NEC's Jordan Hall in Boston.

The title's bold claim cannot be challenged; the ancient Etruscans, creators of extraordinary artwork, spoke a language that is now lost (only the alphabet is now decipherable). The obvious connection to the plight of contemporary art music is contradicted by the engaging surface of the piece, which bubbles with jazz-like riffs. An eerie beginning leads quickly to a bebop-like head and ensuing hyperactivity. A more serene interlude, capped by a passage marked "sustained, intimate, molto legato" for the two instruments playing pianissimo in their highest registers, gives way to a compressed and raucous recapitulation. The instrumental writing gives ample scope for the baritone sax and bass clarinet players to exercise their talents.
-Eric Moe

Lee (Leon Joseph) Hyla was born in Niagara Falls, New York (1952), and grew up in Greencastle, Indiana. After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music (B. Mus., 1975), he studied at SUNY Stony Brook (M.A. 1978), then lived in New York City, returning to New England Conservatory to teach in 1992, where he is currently co-chairman of the composition department. He has written for numerous performers, including the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Kronos Quartet (with Allen Ginsberg), Speculum Musicae, Lydian String Quartet, Tim Smith, Tim Berne, Rhonda Rider, Stephen Drury, Mia Chung, and Judith Gordon. He has received commissions from the Koussevitsky, Fromm, Barlow, and Naumburg Foundations, Mary Flagler Charitable Trust, Concert Artist's Guild, and is the recipient of two Meet the Composer/Reader's Consortium Commissions. He has also been the recipient of the Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Goddard Lieberson Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Rome Prize. Hyla's music has been recorded on the Nonesuch, New World, Avant, CRI, and Tzadik labels.


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