Skip to page content

Composed: 2004, 2005

Length: 8 minutes

Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, bass trombone, timpani, percussion (brake drum, chimes, crotales, sizzle cymbal, suspended cymbal, bass drum, glockenspiel, hi-hat, marimba, tam tam, thunder sheets, toms, vibraphone), harp, and strings

An associate professor in composition at the Thornton School, Erica Muhl holds diplomas and degrees in composition from the American Conservatory in Paris, California State University Northridge, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, and USC. Her primary teachers at these institutions were Nadia Boulanger, Aurelio de la Vega, Franco Donatoni, and James Hopkins. Through master classes and symposia she has also worked with Joan Tower, William Kraft, John Harbison, Samuel Adler, Chinary Ung, Olly Wilson, and George Crumb. Muhl has been awarded residencies from the Charles Ives Center for American Music, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music, and the governments of Mexico and Venezuela, among others. In 1993 she was the recipient of the prestigious Whitaker Commissioning Prize in conjunction with the Women's Philharmonic in San Francisco. That commission resulted in the orchestral work What is the sound of an angel's voice..., which was premiered in 1994 to great critical acclaim. She has received grants and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, National Endowment for the Arts, Opera America, Italy's Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Meet the Composer Foundation, Rotary International Foundation, and American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Her works have been performed and broadcast by such noted organizations as the RAI Orchestra, the New World Symphony, the Arditti Quartet, the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, National Public Radio, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

The composer has provided the following note:

From the very first moments of Fleet the listener has the feeling of having happened on a piece of music in mid-stream. Propelled by a startling splash on the glockenspiel and crotales (small cymbal-like bells), the flutes jump into a flying perpetuum mobile (perpetual motion) which, while gentle to the ear, tests the physical limits of the fingers. As this progresses, exchanges of color in the various choirs of the orchestra add resonant waves in the wake of the speeding figures. The rhythmic fury is soon passed to the marimba and low strings, sharply accented by supporting brass and woodwinds. The music seems to repose briefly during an interlude highlighted by vibraphone and strings, but returns to the driving rhythms before an interim climax and transition into the second section.

In direct contrast to the first section, the center of the work is highlighted by delicate, woven lines of counterpoint, subtle colorations, and a near-complete lack of a discernible beat. After a bit, harp and vibraphone offer a glimpse of a melody that will be fully revealed only at the end of the work. Over high strings and winds, the drums mark the end of the section as they lock into biting, cascading rhythms that lead to the return of the perpetuum mobile. With this return, the final section takes us on a course at first familiar, but then surprising as it heads toward a jubilant finale.

Originally a commission for organ and percussion from the American Guild of Organists, Fleet was premiered in Los Angeles at the AGO National Convention in July 2004. Expanded and reworked from the original, the orchestral version is receiving its world premiere by the USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra.