Intensive Care

10 Amelia rl 318.jpg
10 Amelia rl 318.jpg

Intensive Care


for violin, cello, and piano (2011)

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  • Premiere: 9 December 2011 Beijing New Music Ensemble, Beijing, China and Finisterra Piano Trio, Seattle, Washington (simultaneous); 7 December 2012 Entelechron Piano Trio / Phoenix Concert Series, Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy, New York, NY
  • Instrumentation: vln.vlc.pft
  • Duration: 3'
  • Dedication: Commissioned for the Phoenix Concerts Folk Tale Project, 2011
  • All orders are digital downloads. To order paper scores please visit our partner distributor, Theodore Front.

Program Note

The Phoenix Concert Series in New York City commissioned Intensive Care in 2011 as part of "the Folktale Project" for premiere performances by the Beijing New Music Ensemble, the Finisterra Piano Trio, and the Entelechron Piano Trio. Each of the fistful of composers tapped was asked to relate in music a folk tale that figured prominently in their own personal mythology. I chose the Icarus myth.

The Icarus legend is so central to my poetic memory and personal mythology that it has inspired (in part or whole) a slew of works over the years, including Flight Music (2005) for treble voices and string quartet, Icarus (2006) for solo clarinet, the grand opera Amelia (2010) -- in which Icarus and Daedalus are characters -- Book of Days (2011), a trio for clarinet, viola, and piano, and a movement from my Symphony No. 5 (2014). 

The form of the piece is that of a mobile, with each musical idea a separate element, all the elements in constant, Varèse-like motion. There are four elements: the "heart monitor" ostinato idea in Intensive Care (an emphatic fortissimo pizzicato, doubled with a martellato piano stroke) originates in the scene from the opera Amelia where Icarus and his father Daedalus are reimagined as a contemporary father and son who has "fallen from a great height." The "S-O-S" "rhythmic tattoo" originates in Flight Music, and represents Amelia-Earhart-as-Icarus-figure's electronic calls for help. The "piano roulades" originate in a song called "Coming," from the cycle Larkin Songs (2001). The "lyrical tune" began as the subject of a memorial symphony (1983) that I wrote (conducted with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and then immediately withdrew, its purpose fulfilled) when my best friend in Philadelphia, Norman Stumpf, took his life.

GWEN HAGEN   Icarus, My Son   1965.   Terracotta,   11 x 6 x 9

GWEN HAGEN Icarus, My Son 1965. Terracotta, 11 x 6 x 9

(Banner photo: Icarus and Daedalus from Seattle Opera's production of Daron Hagen's opera Amelia. Photo by Rozarii Lynch)

The Entelechron Trio (Roger Zahab, violin; Robert Frankenberry, piano; David Russell, cello) give the NY premiere of the work.

I was asked by the commissioner to provide a condensed telling of the tale for the program note. I reached back to a poem that I sketched in early 2011 while working with Gardner McFall on the libretto of Amelia.