Fire Music


Fire Music


for orchestra (1992)

not available for digital download
  • Premiere: 22 March 1992 / Music Hall / The Long Beach Symphony /JoAnn Falletta
  • 3(III=picc).3.3(III=bcl).2.dbn-4.4(I=flug).3.1.timp.perc(2)-harp-pft(=cel)-str 
  • Duration:16'
  • Dedication: "Commissioned for the Long Beach Symphony by Dr. Frankie Grover."
  • Publisher: The study score is available for purchase from ECS Publishing; the work is otherwise a rental. 

Program Note

JoAnn Falletta

JoAnn Falletta

After composing the opera Shining Brow, when it came time to compose Fire Music, my imagination was still filled with ideas from the opera. I determined to use the music associated with the opera's protagonist, Frank Lloyd Wright, to create a symphonic portrait of the famous architect.

Perhaps we have come to Taliesin to meet the Great Man and Fire Music is his pitch to us for a new design — the incendiary ferocity of his rhetoric, the grandiosity of his language, the self-assurance bordering on hubris, of the man. I imagine Mr. Wright, hands on hips, daring us not to commission him. Those acquainted with Wright's life already know the terrible role fire played in it: his Xanadu in Spring Green, Taliesin, was twice devastated, and it claimed the lives of his lover Mamah Cheney and her children. The first gesture of the piece may as well be an igniting spark and the rest of it the roaring of the flames.

At the center of the piece are three ideas: the first is is a four note cell, heard at the beginning, that grows into a snake-like worm, insinuating and ever-growing. The timpani plays the second idea — a driving rhythmic cell. The harp, piano, vibraphone and marimba give the third idea — an ersatz Protestant Hymn of the sort that Wright's own father might have taught him. The fourth idea is the theme that, in the opera, Wright uses to pitch his plan (while pitching woo) for what would become the Cheney House in Chicago to Mamah. In Shining Brow, he sings, in the words of Paul Muldoon, "Each room opens into the next, Mamah, so that one may follow one's bent, as it were, from the living room through the den to the bedroom." The four ideas are presented in collage.

Commissioned by Dr. Frances Grover and the Long Beach (Ca) Symphony Orchestra and premiered by the LBSO on 22 March 1992 at the Music Hall, Long Beach, California, the piece is dedicated to the LBSO, and to their music director JoAnn Falletta, who conducted the first performance.

— Daron Hagen, 1992


Mr. Hagen's Fire Music [performed by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall] is violent in a benign and appealing way. Its rhythmic energy and hard, shiny sound jump out and pounce. The chorale-like center is played on a vibraphone, maintaining the coolness of the sound. Choruses of brass instruments babble and chatter among themselves. ...It has a bright, forward charm.

— Bernard Holland, The New York Times, March 17, 2004

Daron Aric Hagen's evocative 1991 Fire Music comprised the first 17 minutes of the [St. Louis Symphony's] program. The instrumentalists tossed off its intricate, cross-cutting rhythms without apparent difficulty, while a listener could be absorbed in its multi-level structure.

— John Huxhold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 2, 1995

[As premiered by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, the work is] tonal, except for a brief middle section of aural splurts and splotches, it is a big, bold, glittery affair built on multifaceted techniques and nods to Bartokian rhythms here, Janacek brass there, a lush melodic string line elsewhere, moments of clever counterpoint and complex manipulation of harmonies against a kaleidoscope of muted figurations.

— Donna Perlmutter, The Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1992

Hagen's score starts fast and never lets up in its demands. When Hagen doesn't call for speed, he requires sensitivity. When he doesn't demand power, he insists on delicacy. Notes are tossed back and forth around the orchestra. All the effects worked (although the shattering of the glass had to be electronically amplified).

— David Levinson, Press-Telegram, Los Angeles, March 30, 1992