Length: c. 45 minutes
Orchestration: 4 flutes (3rd + 4th = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (2nd = bass clarinet 2), bass clarinet, 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, timpani, percussion (almglocken, high anvil, large bass drum, chimes, small Chinese gongs, crotales, suspended cymbals, glockenspiel, low gongs, marimba, "ranch" triangles, shaker, large sleighbells, tam-tam, triangles, vibraphone, xylophone), guitar, 2 harps, piano, celesta, sampler, and strings
First performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic: February 19, 1999 (world premiere), Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting
The following note is excerpted from one the composer provided for the premiere performances:
"Naive" and "sentimental": I use these two terms knowing they may at first be misunderstood. I mean them not as we commonly interpret them but rather in the sense that Schiller used them in his essay "Über naive und sentimental-ische Dichtung" ("On Naive and Sentimental Poetry"), a once-influential essay from 1795 which has by now been all but forgotten. Schiller saw essentially two types of creative personalities: "those who are not conscious of any rift between themselves and their milieu, or within themselves; and those who are so conscious." (I quote from Isaiah Berlin, who so succinctly summarizes Schiller's point of view.) The "unconscious" artists are the naive ones. For them art is a natural form of expression, uncompromised by self-analysis or worry over its place in the historical continuum. "They see what they see directly, and seek to articulate it for its own sake, not for any ulterior purpose, however sublime." Schiller cites Homer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and his own contemporary, Goethe, as examples of the naive. Opposed to this is the sentimental poet whose art "comes about when man enters the stage of culture where the primordial, sensuous unity is gone... The harmony between sense and thinking, which in the earlier (naive) state was real, now exists only as an ideal. It is not in a man, as a fact of life, but outside him, as an ideal to be realized."
Like all dichotomies Schiller's can be taken too far and become strained, even ridiculous. But as a novel way of looking at artistic behavior and at the creative process his distinction is a provocative one and for me more illuminating than the more familiar polarities we so often encounter at concerts and art openings: "Classical vs. Romantic," "Apollonian vs. Dionysian," "Modern vs. Postmodern," and so forth. Of course the possibility for any truly "naive" art to exist in our ferociously art-historical and self-conscious times is virtually nil.
Even writing about my own work, as I now must do, brings my own creative process out of the realm of the spontaneous into the harsh light of verbalization, reason, and analysis. This particular piece, perhaps more than any of my others, attempts to allow the naive in me to speak, to let it play freely. Knowing full well that the "naïve," like the fox's grapes, can exist now only as an unreachable ideal, I use this quest only as an engine in the search for my own sense of balance. Thus, writing for orchestra at a time when the epoch of great orchestral music has already flowered and passed is itself a deeply sentimental act. But it can also be a naive one, because speaking through the medium of the orchestra has always been a natural and spontaneous gesture for me. In that sense I am "at home with my medium" (a prerequisite for Schiller), and what comes out is, insofar as it can possibly be, spontaneous and emotionally fulfilled music.
The piece was written between the spring of 1998 and the following winter, and it is dedicated to Esa-Pekka Salonen. My admiration for his work is based in part on my understanding of his own "bipolar" musical existence. The composer who is also a conductor experiences daily the jarring collisions of public and private, of extrovert and introvert, and the harsh divisions between one's inner and outer lives. "E-P" seems to move between these two worlds better than most, and since my piece is about polarities, it seems a fitting dedication.
"At home with my medium" meant using a three-movement form for this large-scale, 45-minute work which, aside from my two operas, is the most ambitious of anything I've yet to write. The first movement is an "essay on melody" and is governed by the "naive/sentimental" tune, a melody that begins the music and floats throughout the 20-minute structure like an idée fixe, usually accompanied by the strumming of the guitar and harps. The conceit of an extremely simple diatonic tune that leaves the nest and ventures out into the wide world like a Dickens child has its predecessors in several earlier pieces of mine: the "Chorus of Exiled Palestinians" from The Death of Klinghoffer and, more recently, the final movement of my clarinet concerto, Gnarly Buttons, "Put Your Loving Arms Around Me."
The second movement, "Mother of the Man," is a gloss on Busoni's Berceuse élégiaque. Busoni's subtitle for this little-known piece is "cradle song of the man at the coffin of his mother." Not only does the very choice of title by Busoni epitomize the clash of "naive" and "sentimental," but it also summons an archetypical scene that lies deep in the subconscious of every person, the death of the mother and the man or woman's desire to return to the uncorrupt state of infancy.
For those who know my earlier music, "Chain to the Rhythm," the last movement, will appear to be full of familiar Adamsian flora and fauna. Small fragments of rhythmic cells are moved back and forth among a variety of harmonic areas and in so doing create a chain of events that culminates in fast, virtuoso surge of orchestral energy. The orchestration features a particularly large percussion section whose activity centers more on delicacy of timbre than on forcefulness of sound.
- John Adams