Missing Words (2014) - For Octet (Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, 2 Violins, Viola, Violoncello, Double Bass)
For Octet (Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, 2 Violins, Viola, Violoncello, Double Bass)
Composed for Scharoun Ensemble Berlin
“Missing Words” (2014) is an homage to Ben Schott’s book Schottenfreude (2013), a collection of newly created German words for contemporary life. The German language has the capability to create new words through the combination of shorter words and can thus express complex concepts in a single word for which there is no direct translation in other languages. Such words include Schadenfreude, Doppelgänger and Wanderlust, and these have been adopted into use in English. With his new book, Ben Schott proposes new words missing from the English language that we can choose to adopt into our daily lives.
My piece is a series of short musical responses to the definitions of three of Schott’s new words. The first movement responds to Schott’s word “Eisenbahnscheinbewegung,” which he directly translates as “Railway-Illusion-Motion” and defines as “the false sensation of movement when, looking out from a stationary train, you see another train depart.” I have experienced this feeling many times, and while I know that the train next to me is moving forward I get the feeling that the train that I am on is actually moving backwards. I try to capture in the music this blurred sense of motion, the stretching and pulling of pitch and time in opposite directions, and the illusion of harmonic motion when the underlying harmony in essence remains static.
The second movement is inspired by Schott’s word “Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen,” which Schott translates word-for-word in English as “Autumn-Foliage-Strike-Fun.” He defines it as the delight in “kicking through piles of autumn leaves.” I began composing the piece in autumn, and did some personal research in the process (kicking through heaps of leaves myself), and it brought back memories of the fun I had in autumns of my youth. In this very brief movement I try to capture a joyous swaggering of kicking through leaves, the piles reacting differently to each kick, some kicks more successful than others.
The final movement reflects on the word “Fingerspitzentanz,” which translates as “Fingertips-Dance,” and Schott defines as “tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity,” such as the act of threading a needle. In the movement, I reflect on the words “fingertips” and “dance,” creating virtuosic music for the fingertips. The movement opens with the string players only fingering the notes, not bowing or plucking them. As the piece progresses, other uses of the fingertips such as plucking the string (pizzicato) is introduced and the music gains momentum, building in speed and virtuosity. It ends with a “tiny triumph” for the ensemble as a whole, where each member must nimbly “thread the needle,” if you will, each placing their individual notes into the framework of a larger musical gesture.
“Missing Words” was composed for, and is dedicated to, Scharoun Ensemble Berlin.