Built Up Dark


Built Up Dark


for strings, winds, and percussion (1995)

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  • Premiere: 11 May 1995 / Cathedral of Saint John, Milwaukee, Wisconsin / Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra / Stephen Colburn
  • Instrumentation: (I,II=picc).2(II=corA).2(I=Ebcl,II=bcl).2- 
  • Duration: 9.5'
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Stephen Colburn

Stephen Colburn

Program Note

The title of the piece comes from a recurring image in the libretto of my 1993 opera Shining Brow. In one context, it describes Native Americans as 'sweeping back across the land / to build upon the built up dark.' In another context, a woman bitterly asks her estranged husband if he remembers when, together, they used to 'build upon the built up dark.' In yet another context, a man kneels beside the pine casket of his lover and laments that she has 'gone back into the built up dark.' Although I cull no musical ideas from the opera, this piece does explore the musical ideas that I as a composer have come to associate most with these psychological states.

There are four musical ideas in this piece: (1.) a melodic wedge — a handful of notes which lead inward towards, or splay outward away from a central tone; (2.) a cluster — a simultaneous sounding of adjacent pitches; (3.) a harmonic constellation of four triads — B flat major, E major, G major, and D flat major, associated with one another by (4.) the interval of the tritone — three whole steps.

The work is dedicated to Stephen Colburn and the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra. Commissioned by the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, it was composed in New York City and premiered by the MCO, led by their Music Director, Stephen Colburn, on 11 May 1995 at the Cathedral of Saint John in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1997, I made a version of this piece for large wind ensemble, and titled the resulting tone poem Night, Again.

— Daron Hagen, 1997


Milwaukee-born Hagen's explosive and visceral Built Up Dark showed how some post-modern music can break all the compositional rules but still remain powerful and accessible. Combining rich tone clusters, Rite of Spring percussive syncopation, shimmering string harmonics and majestic chordal passages, Hagen's short and furious piece left an impression that lingered far longer than the echo of the final, thundering chord.

— Paul Kosidowski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/12/95