Book of Days
Book of Days
for clarinet, viola, and piano (2011)
- Premiere: 19 March 2011 / The Mondavi Center, Davis, California / Curtis On Tour / Kelly Coyle, clarinet / Ayane Kozasa, viola / Ignat Solzhenitsyn, piano
- Instrumentation: cl.vla.pf
- Duration: 19'
- Dedication: Commissioned by the Curtis Institute of Music, 2010
- All orders are digital downloads. To order paper scores please visit our partner distributor, Theodore Front.
Commissioned by the Curtis Institute to craft a trio for its 2011 touring ensemble "Music From Curtis," I complied by producing a suite of memories of my student days thirty years ago.
Monday. The first movement begins with a little chorale I composed for theory and analysis teacher Ford Lallerstedt during the first week of classes I attended at the Institute. The tune is a gloss on the melody of Ring a Ring o' Roses, a nursery rhyme which has come to be associated with the Plague. It immediately morphs into an instrumental version of my setting, from the cycle Phantoms of Myself, of Susan Griffin's poem Her Sadness Runs Beside Her Like a Horse. It is included as a tribute to Karen Hale, my dear friend and classmate, for whom I composed Days Without You, a cycle of Anne Sexton settings for soprano and orchestra. Somewhere in the Curtis library is a recording of the 1983 premiere.
Tuesday. The burgundies, blood-reds, and dirty vermilions of this movement are a recollection of the 1982 night I fell in love with my then girlfriend. I shall never forget being sprawled out on the wine-dark, plushness of the carpet in the Horzowski Room, listening to her practicing, from memory, illuminated only by light creeping in from a streetlamp outside in Rittenhouse Square, the Bartok Solo Sonata.
Wednesday. A cadenza for solo clarinet is my musical recollection of how it felt as a student when, tears coursing down my cheeks, I first heard Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps performed-purely, before learning its title, history, or program.
Thursday. The trio together, recalls the night that I visited Norman Stumpf, my best friend (a talented composition student at Curtis who took his life) in his hospital room. I imitate the sound of a heart monitor, "slap-tongue," in the clarinet, doubled with pizzicato in the viola, just as I did in my opera Amelia as Icarus died. I follow the quotation of the tune to which Norman had set our favorite poem, Roethke's The Waking and with which I memorialized him back then in a symphony.
Friday treats music from the beginning of Amelia, as though to give an idea of whom I have become in the intervening years. Saturday revisits music first written for a setting of Byron's Sun of the Sleepless in my cantata Light Fantastic in order to give a taste of the insomnia that set in like a piton during my Curtis years.
The final movement, Sunday, revisits the Plague chorale. It is meant to soothe, to draw closed the curtain on those years. If, on the one hand, one risks by looking backwards turning into a pillar of salt, one must also recall that nostalgia is often "the bread of creativity."
“If I have understood correctly [sic], the seven days of the week function as movements. They begin with Monday, not Sunday, and the first movement is simple, tuneful, and pleasant. (Are your Mondays like that?) The next movement is busy, squirmy, flitting-also a little jazzy. As I have mentioned before, composers can’t help being jazzy, when a clarinet is at hand [sic]. This goes double for American composers. Hagen puts a variety of moods and styles in his “book.” How these relate to the particular days, I can’t really say. I can say that the final movement, for Sunday, is hymn-like. I can also say that the work held my attention. Faint praise, right? From me, not at all.”
— Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion, May, 2011
"Hagen writes affable music. It doesn’t run away from neo-romantic cliches but it doesn’t attempt to avoid romantic sensibility. That is a good combination and serves Hagen well, making an attractive and appealing idiom. This suite is a mixture of all sorts of moods , as well it should be, although I am not sure what makes Monday so different from Thursday or Friday. Maybe it is not relevant. Hagen knows how to spin a melody, and he does so without any hesitation. There is some astringency but not enough to be irritating. But perhaps by being so unremarkable, the music is not quite so pungent. However, it gives extended solos to the viola and the clarinet, which Coyle and Kozasa exploited to the utmost, a compliment.”
— R.M. Campbell, The Gathering Note (Blog), March 26, 2011