Ross Popoff, Emble (2001)

In the spring of 2000, the yesaroun' Duo asked me to write a double concerto for tenor saxophone and timpani. I spent a great deal of time in the gestational process of writing this work, trying out different musical and programmatic ideas. I struggled to find a focus for the piece, something that would make the juxtaposition of timpani and tenor saxophone seem dramatic, giving an individual voice to each soloist while liking their presence into a double-concerto. Emble was written in the summer of 2000 and orchestrated in January of 2001. The idea for the work occurred to me after re-reading the introduction to W.H. Auden's The Age of Anxiety (a baroque eclogue). I was in awe of exactness with which Auden portrayed the struggles of youth and his ability to describe and explain in the most nonchalant tone, some of life's most arduous moments. Auden's character Emble, spoke to me with a rare intensity and I decided to base my double concerto on Auden's caricature of young-adulthood.

Throughout the course of writing Emble, I read the following excerpts from Auden's play daily, either before or after writing:

"[Emble] suffered from that anxiety about himself and his future which haunts, like a bad smell, the minds of most young men, though most of them are under the illusion that their lack of confidence is a unique and shameful fear which, if confessed, would make them an object of derision to their normal contemporaries. Accordingly, they watch others with a covert but passionate curiosity. Here is someone who is nobody in particular, there even an obvious failure, yet they do not seem to mind. How is that possible? What is their secret?"
EMBLE was thinking:
"Estranged, aloof,
They brood over being till the bars close,
The malcontented who might have been
The creative odd ones the average need
To suggest new goals. Self-judged they sit,
Sad haunters of Perhaps who after years
To grasp and gaze in get no further
Than their first beholding"

In Emble there exists two musical characters: one is an energetic, agitated, youthful, rhythmic music; the other, is a soft, mournful, "sospirando" music. These two musics are repeatedly interchanged between the strings, percussion and soloists throughout the journey of the work. Emble is also divided in its grouping of the instruments and their personified characters. The solo saxophone is most often grouped with the strings. Both are polarized towards the expressive, legato music. Concurrent with this, is the grouping of solo timpani and four percussionists who are polarized towards the energetic, agitato music. These polarizations are stated in the first half of the work. The groups are also displayed visually, with the "youth" performers dressed in bright, grunge clothing and the legato group wearing formal black. The two musical characters of these two feuding groups gradually begin to intertwine and mesh together and at the end of the work, mature into a unified, pulsating mass of sound; a heart-beat.



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