Son et lumière
Length: c. 9 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes (2nd = alto and piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd = E-flat clarinet), bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, chimes, claves, cowbells, crotales, suspended cymbals, glockenspiel, maracas, marimba, roto-toms, tam-tam, tom-toms, triangle, vibes, woodblocks, and xylophone), harp, piano (= celesta), and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: January 17, 1990, André Previn conducting
The title Son et lumière (Sound and Light) is borrowed from the kind of show staged for tourists at historic sites or famous buildings for a piece I intended as an orchestral entertainment whose subject is the play of colors, bright surfaces, and shimmery textures. I tried in this music to recapture the elan and immediacy that regular meters and repetitive rhythms make possible – the sort of thing forbidden during the modernist regime but later restored in the “minimalist” work of composers like John Adams, Steve Reich, and many others. Throughout its brief nine minutes, therefore, the piece is built almost exclusively of short, busy ostinato figures – my attempt, I suppose, to achieve the rhythmic vitality of minimalism, but without giving in to the over-simple harmonic language that sometimes comes with it.
Surprisingly, the musical materials wanted to shape themselves into an approximation of the 19th-century sonata-form pattern. We hear an introduction, a first theme (based on triadic broken chords), a second theme (beginning with the flute solo), and a closing theme (two piccolos). In a sort of development section, these materials are recombined in new ways; in a recapitulation, both the first and second themes are recalled more or less intact (part of the second is actually repeated quite literally). Then, in the coda, a second surprise: as if another music has all the while been lurking behind the shiny surface, the strings now unexpectedly emerge to assert a new, more passionate, more “serious” voice in an attempt to transcend the external show of sound and light.
— Steven Stucky is Consulting Composer for New Music for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.