Ana Cervantes to premiere …Like Water Dashed From Flowers… at the 38th Annual Festival Internacional Cervantino 2010, October 19

Following on the success of her Juan Rulfo project, pianist Ana Cervantes has put together another multi-composer themed commissioning project entitled Song of the Monarch: Women in Mexico. Nearly 20 composers from around the world were commissioned to respond to the theme, which conflates the varied historical roles played by women in Mexican history and the annual autumn migration of Monarch butterflies into Mexico. This new collection of solo piano music includes my …Like Water Dashed From Flowers…, a piece that borrows elements from the folkloric song La Zandunga and Nahuatl poetry. The piece is somewhat demanding and includes aspects of ritual and song, where the pianist is asked at times to recite text, sing, play a rattle, stomp her foot (wearing ankle bells), or utilize other extended techniques, often while playing the piano at the same time.

The world premiere of ten works from Monarch will take place on 19 October in the Festival Internacional Cervantino, at 12:00 noon in the Salón del Consejo Universitario. The remaining nine pieces are by noted composers: Carlos Cruz de Castro (Spain), Jack Fortner (U.S.A.), Tomás Marco(Spain), Alba Potes (Colombia), Marcela Rodríguez (Mexico), Paul Barker (United Kingdom), Pilar Jurado (Spain) and Silvia Berg (Brazil).

Shifting Coastlines (Medium High Voice and Piano)

Medium High Voice and Piano. (2000/2007) 20’
Texts by Charles Simic; (John Sokol); Ralph Burns; Howard Nemerov; Albert Goldbarth; Ronald Wallace

In 2000, inspired by our mutual love of science, the amazing artist Karen Fitzgerald and I collaborated on a project funded by the Greenwall Foundation and the Queens Community Arts Fund. We chose six poems by living authors that address the human condition through natural and scientific imagery. I composed six songs for the Goliard Ensemble: solo voice, flute, violin, cello, piano and percussion; Karen created six 60” paintings. The work premiered in October, 2000 at the Steinway Reformed Church, Astoria, NYC. These six round paintings were paired back-to-back and suspended above the audience. The project toured six South-East states during the Fall of 2000.

These pieces are very close to my heart, and over the past year, in my spare time, I revisited, revised and re-arranged five of them, paring it all down to a work for voice and piano in the hopes of making them more easily available for wider performance. Stylistically, the songs live in a place where art song, music theater and pop song overlap. Please email me if you are interested in seeing scores. (At some point I may take care of the sixth song, John Sokol’s Thoughts Near the Close of the Millenium, but not right now.)

Drawing the Triangle / Oleander Hawk:

oleanderhawk_sm.jpgDrawing the Triangle — Charles Simic

I reserve the triangle
For the wee hours,
The chigger-sized hours.

I like how it starts out
And never gets there.
I like how it starts out.
In the meantime, the bedroom window
Reflecting the owlish aspect
Of the face and the interior.

One hopes for tangents
Surreptitiously in attendance
Despite the rigors of the absolute.

Stars / Pearl:

Stars — Ralph Burns

I sit and rock my son to sleep. It rains
and rains. Such as we are both asleep,
we swim past the stars,
bad stars of disaster, good stars of the backbone of night.

We know these stars as they are
and as we’d wish them to be, Milky Way,
Dog and Bear, hydrogen and helium, the 92
elements which make all we know of beauty.

We know nothing of angular size or
the inverse square law of the propagation
of light, and swim through a cold, thin
gas, between and among the stars,

which swim likewise between two creations
like children who know sleep intimately.

Figures of Thought / Triton:

Figures of Thought — Howard Nemerov

To lay the logarithmic spiral on
Sea-shell and leaf alike, and see it fit,
To watch the same idea work itself out
In the fighter pilot’s steepening, tightening turn
Onto his target, setting up the kill,
And in the flight of certain wall-eyed bugs
Who cannot see to fly straight into death
But have to cast their sidelong glance at it
And come but cranking to the candle’s flame —

How secret that is, and how privileged
One feels to find the same necessity
Ciphered in forms diverse and otherwise
Without kinship — that is the beautiful
In Nature as in art, not obvious,
Not inaccessible, but just between.

It may diminish some of our dry delight
To wonder if everything we are and do
Lies subject to some little law like that;
Hidden in nature, but not deeply so.

The Sciences Sing a Lullabye / Treetops

The Sciences Sing a Lullabye — Albert Goldbarth
Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you’re tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They’ll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.
Geology says: it will be alright. Slow inch
by inch America is giving itself
to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness
lap at your sides. Give darkness and inch.
You aren’t alone. All the continents used to be
one body. You aren’t alone. Go to sleep.
Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow,
Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,
Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so
Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town
History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down on down.

Love’s Discrete Nonlinearity / Rubythroat:

Love’s Discrete Nonlinearity — Ronald Wallace, from Chaos Theory

No heart’s desire is repeatable, or,
therefore, predictable. If a few hungry foxes
gorge on a large population of rabbits,
the population of foxes increases
while that of the rabbits declines,
until some point of equilibrium is passed
and the foxes begin to vanish with
the depleted supply of rabbits, and then
the rabbits multiply, like rabbits. And so on.
The ebb and flow of desire and fulfillment
is a story as old as the world. So,
if I loved you, finally, too much, until
you began to disappear, and I followed,
would you theoretically return to love
repeatedly again? There are forces so small
in our story of foxes and rabbits
no Malthus could ever account for them.
Whole species daily disappear, intractable
as weather. Or think of a continent’s
coastlines, their unmeasurable eddies
and whorls: infinite longings inscribed
by finite space and time,
the heart’s intricate branchings.

Thoughts near the Close of the Millennium / Burning Bush (not complete)

Thoughts near the Close of the Millennium — John Sokol

In this expanding universe, everything is leaving everything,
yet there is no center
From which any of this leave-taking leaves; the middle
of every departure
Is everywhere. Microcosmically viewed, it all looks a lot like
the pores of Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks
When he blew his horn. We’re spinning away from the sun
and the stars
While Ceres moves away from Jupiter and Neptune moves
away from Mars.
Everything is leaving its immediate neighborhood, gathering
more and more distance
For itself, like the furthest quasar, that — 18 billion years ago —
said goodbye to Proxima Centauri.
Even Nancy down the street is leaving Charlie and the kids. Like
everything else,
We’re forever blown away by that first Big Bang. We’re stuck
in the atmospheric saddle
Of a slow-motion explosion, like that one at the end of Antonioni’s
Zabriskie Point,
Where that floating olive might be the earth, and if we slow down
the slow-motion (slow it,
Geometrically, down), we can witness that olive decomposing
and watch entropy eat it up
While we consider that all those little anatomizing volcanoes and
Olive-quakes of it
Might be comparable to the shifting and colliding of continents
which have slow-danced
To the music of the spheres for billions of summer nights, crashing
their own weddings
And feasting off each other’s tectonic plates until the next big bash:
all of which is just the drop-of-an-olive
In a martini glass compared to what it would take to understand
what I’m talking about
Is the energy that is the black hole of me that sucked this martini
so dry that no light exists,
And now the pimento of that olive is the pit of my stomach
which seems to have multiplied
In density a thousand-fold, like a pellet of buckshot become
Or maybe, like — at the core of a white dwarf — that teaspoon
of matter that weighs five tons.
So maybe all this wonder and worry — and all this speculation —
is futile, because, here it is,
New Year’s Eve again and I don’t think I need to overstate my point.

Die Freudenkrone: Ehrerbietung zu J.S. Bach (Organ, Timpani, SATB Choir)

Organ, Timpani and SATB Choir (2007) ca. 11’

Commissioned by the City of Liepāja for organist Lotars Džeriņš to premiere at the VI International Organ Music Festival in Liepāja, Latvia.
Premiered September 8, 2007. With Normunds Everts, Timpani and the Chamber Choir Intis, directed by Ilze Valce

Purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $50 and make all the necessary copies for your group. You can also email me for sample pages beforehand.:

Program note:

The title of this work translates to The Crown of Joy: Homage to J.S. Bach, and is part of the text from the chorale movement (verse six) of Bach’s Cantata BMV 103. For this piece, I used that chorale melody (with my own harmonization), along with fragments taken from his toccata and fugue in D dorian (BMV 538).

Ich habe dich einen Augenblick,
O liebes Kind, verlassen;
Sieh’ aber, sieh’, mit großem Glück
Und Trost ohn’ alle Maßen
Will ich dir schon die Freudenkrone
Aufsetzen und verehren;
Dein kurzes Leid soll sich in Freude
Und ewig Wohl verkehren.

I have for a moment,
my dear child, left you;
but see, see, with great good fortune
and comfort beyond all measure
I shall on you the crown of joy
place and honour;
Your brief suffering will into joy
and everlasting good be changed.

English Translation by Francis Browne (February 2002), taken from

From the Faraway Nearby (Piano Four-Hands)

Piano Four Hands, Six Movements, (2006) ca. 20’
Premiered by Hugh Sung and Walter Cosand, at Arizona State University, November 2006.

Purchase a PDF of the score via PayPal for $15:

This suite is inspired by paintings by the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Originally written for two guitars, the suite was recorded by the Goldspiel-Provost Classical Guitar Duo. Since I rearranged the suite in 2006, it has been performed by several duos, in Latvia, England and the U.S. The paintings, audio excerpts (recordings take from the premiere by Hugh Sung and Walter Cosand) and the liner notes from the Guitar Duo CD are interspersed below.

Excerpting from an American Record Guide review (May 2002): “The centerpiece of the recital is From the Faraway Nearby, a six-movement work by New York composer Charles Griffin. Much of the work is obsessively repetitive, with constantly shifting ostinatos creating a backdrop that is at once hypnotic and engaging in its play with expectation and meter. The harmonic language is largely diatonic, though not without some provocative clashes between melodic figure and ostinato ground. The work was written for the Goldspiel-Provost Duo and they have clearly lived with it long enough to give it a solid, sensitive reading.”

These pieces, as the paintings, share a common simplification of form and clarity of line. Some are literal musical depictions of the paintings while others treat the subject more abstractly. We are offering the following descriptions to provide a better understanding of the relation between the music and painting.

Lawrence Tree

The Lawrence Tree (1929) depicts an upward view of a towering ponderosa pine found on D. H. Lawrence’s ranch outside Taos, NM. The perspective here is not unlike that of City Night, and while City Night may be seen as a testament to human yearning, The Lawrence Tree may represent a more powerful, more substantial, more natural or universal yearning. The painting shows angular branches supporting the foliage. Griffin uses an oscillating harmonic figure in one part to support the angular, rising line of the other.

City Night

City Night (1926) is a tranquil painting showing two shadowed slightly converging skyscrapers framing a white one. Next to the white skyscraper a full moon is visible. This tranquil setting is achieved musically through the primo playing the accompaniment in high, rolled chords while the secondo plays a plaintive single-line melody that begins in the baritone register and climbs to meet its accompaniment.

Pelvis IV

Pelvis IV (1944) is from a series of approximately twelve painted between 1943-45. The early pelvis paintings depict the entire bone standing upright in a landscape setting. This painting, on the other hand, focuses on the ovoid opening within the bone through which a blue night sky and full moon are visible. While Oriental Poppies is a celebration of feminine sexual energy, the Pelvis series is largely a poetic statement about feminine sexual power via cycles, birth, and rebirth. In his setting, Griffin uses a variety of techniques to evoke these elements, such as blue notes, percussive effects, rhythmic displacement, and periodicities.

From the Farway Nearby

From the Faraway Nearby (1937) contains a large deer’s skull and antlers superimposed over a mountain and sky background. The strikingly ambiguous relationship between the skull and antlers in the foreground, (Nearby) and the mountain and sky landscape, (Faraway) is further emphasized by the absence of a middle ground. Griffin musically captures this painting by using a mournful cowboy-esque melody (Nearby) in one part and a simple, delicate accompaniment played in (Faraway) in the uppermost register. O’Keeffe often closed her letters with “From the Faraway Nearby, Georgia.”

Sky Above Clouds I

Sky Above Clouds I (1963) The first of seven paintings on the same theme executed between 1962-65, was inspired while flying to New Mexico. The painting is divided into two registers. The lower one depicts the puffy clouds seen from an airplane and the second register the sky above the clouds. Griffin casts the outer sections of the movement in a lower register and uses frequent asymmetries to create a sense of perpetual motion or flight, while an upper-register ostinato in the middle section is used to delineate the “above clouds” register of the painting. The piece ends with a quiet, coda that in effect “takes off” beyond the frame of the painting.

Oriental Poppies

Oriental Poppies (1928) depicts two red poppies viewed from different perspectives. While on one hand they are identical, the perspective focuses the eye to different details of each flower. Griffin uses an ostinato figure to support a melodic line, and dance-like rhythms to capture the vibrant energy of the painting. The players frequently interchange roles but both are always equal. The listener can choose to listen to either part or the whole as the viewer may choose to focus on one flower or the entire painting.

Murmuring in Comala (Piano solo)

Piano solo, one movement, ca. 4′
Commissioned by Ana Cervantes as part of a multi-composer project celebrating the work of Mexican author Juan Rulfo.
Premiere at 34th Festival Internacional Cervantino, October 2006.

Purchase a PDF of the score via PayPal for $2.50:

Watch Ana Cervantes perform the piece live at a benefit concert, in Guanajuato, Mexico, May 4, 2006:

Program Note:

The pianist Ana Cervantes commissioned 18 composers to write short piano pieces to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pedro Paramo, an important proto-magical-realist novel by Mexican author Juan Rulfo. My Murmuring in Comala was written for this project. 12 of the pieces, including mine, were recorded on compact disc and presented at the 34th Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato, Mexico on October 17, 2006.

Rulfo’s striking sonic palette (groaning wheels, rattling windows, falling rain and murmuring ghosts), echoes the complex narrative unfolding, where we rarely know whose voice we are hearing initially. Just as sounds imply someone making them, we recognize the voices peripherally, like registering a ghost image. We discover whose voice it was rather than whose voice it is. We must resist the temptation to steamroll through these difficult passages because these veiled voices are so crucial to our understanding. Equally striking is the novel’s non-linear conception of time. It flowers slowly in multiple directions. This is a lovely analog to music, which is surprisingly multidirectional: we listen ahead and backward simultaneously, constantly reinterpreting each new musical gesture by placing it in its previous context and anticipating its direction.

Cambiando Paisajes (Piano Trio)

Cambiando Paisajes (Shifting Landscapes) (2003, rev. 2005) 9’
Piano Trio – Violin, Cello, Piano.
Commissioned for pianist Teresa McCollough by Santa Clara University.
Premiered April 25, 2003 at Santa Clara University, California.

Purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $12:

Listen to an excerpt performed by Ginta Alžane (violin), Dina Puķite (cello), and Kristīne Grifina (piano):

Program Note:

Cambiando Paisajes (Shifting Landscapes) was commissioned by Santa Clara University for pianist Teresa McCollough. The piece explores and develops upon various standard Salsa rhythms and keyboard riffs. Growing up in New York, where we have two big Latin music radio stations (not to mention a huge Latin American population), I’ve long had a quiet love affair with Salsa music, and the thought to integrate this music in a new piece gained momentum for me over a period of several years. In the summer of 2000, on Cinco de Mayo, at the South Street Seaport, I saw a Salsa band whose singer was also the conga player. The rhythmic independence required to carry out the vocal line against a completely different conga part was staggering to me. I traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico in October 2001 for the Cervantino Festival, and gravitated toward the Salsa clubs in town, and subsequently began frequenting some of the Salsa clubs in Manhattan and the Bronx. There’s an excellent movie called Cuba Feliz, that follows an elder, itinerant singer/guitarist named El Gallo (The Cricket) from city to city to village in Cuba, and I was struck by how often a passerby could grab an instrument or percussion, sing along, make up lyrics on the spot. I envy such a broadly participatory music culture. While I had those sounds in my ears for a long time, I hadn’t delved into it much musically. So, as part of a selfish experiment, I began making my ear-training students deal with solfeging Salsa melodies and clapping clave rhythms simultaneously. I learned how to do it first so I could demonstrate. Once I realized I had personally internalized a fair amount of that music, I felt free to write this piece. At the same time, I wasn’t trying to write an actual piece of Salsa music, but rather to see what I could derive from an exploration of these specific materials, namely the clave rhythm and particular piano riffs.

How Do I Love Thee? (High Voice, Clarinet or Violin & Piano)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, text.
High Voice, Clarinet or Violin & Piano. (2000) 4’30”

A co-commission and premiere by The Lark Ascending, Nancy Bogen, director, and the Lyric Arts Trio.

Listen to a performance by Marcelle Duarte (Soprano), Dennis Jospeh (Clarinet) & Lin Lee (Piano):


Purchase a PDF of the score via PayPal for $4:

Select Instrumentaion Version


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

So, We’ll Go No More A-Roving (High Voice & Piano, opt. Clarinet)

Lord Byron, text.
for High Voice & Piano, with or without Clarinet (1999), ca. 3’30”

Commissioned and premiered by The Lark Ascending, Nancy Bogen, director.

Listen to a performance by Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano) & Peter Vinograde (Piano):


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Select Instrumentaion Version

So, we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

Lord George Gordon Byron, 1788-1824

The Far Field (High Voice, Clarinet & Piano)

Theodore Roethke, text.
High Voice, Clarinet & Piano (1997), ca. 22′
Premiered by Elizabeth Farnum, Dennis Joseph & Charles Tauber at NYU.

Purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $12:

Listen to excerpts from a live performance by Melissa Fogarty (soprano), Chris Cullen (clarinet) and Laura Barger (piano):
I dream of journeys repeatedly:
Of flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel,
Of driving alone, without luggage, out a long peninsula,
The road lined with snow-laden second growth,
A fine dry snow ticking the windshield,
Alternate snow and sleet, no on-coming traffic,
And no lights behind, in the blurred side-mirror,
The road changing from glazed tarface to a rubble of stone,
Ending at last in a hopeless sand-rut,
Where the car stalls,
Churning in a snowdrift
Until the headlights darken.

At the field’s end, in the corner missed by the mower,
Where the turf drops off into a grass-hidden culvert,
Haunt of the cat-bird, nesting-place of the field-mouse,
Not too far away from the ever-changing flower-dump,
Among the tin cans, tires, rusted pipes, broken machinery,-
One learned of the eternal;
And in the shrunken face of a dead rat,
eaten by rain and ground-beetles
(I found it lying among the rubble of an old coal bin)
And the tom-cat, caught near the pheasant-run,
Its entrails strewn over the half-grown flowers,
Blasted to death by the night watchman.

I suffered for birds, for young rabbits caught in the mower,
My grief was not excessive.

For to come upon warblers in early May
Was to forget time and death:
How they filled the oriole’s elm,
a twittering restless cloud, all one morning,
And I watched and watched
till my eyes blurred from the bird shapes,-
Cape May, Blackburnian, Cerulean,-
Moving, elusive as fish, fearless,
Hanging, bunched like young fruit, bending the end branches,
Still for a moment,
Then pitching away in half-flight,
Lighter than finches,
While the wrens bickered and sang in the half-green hedgerows,
And the flicker drummed from his
dead tree in the chicken-yard.

-Or to lie naked in sand,
In the silted shallows of a slow river,
Fingering a shell,
Once I was something like this, mindless,
Or perhaps with another mind, less peculiar;
Or to sink down to the hips in a mossy quagmire;
Or, with skinny knees, to sit astride a wet log,
I’ll return again,
As a snake or a raucous bird,
Or, with luck, as a lion.

I learned not to fear infinity,
The far field, the windy cliffs of forever,
The dying of time in the white light of tomorrow,
The wheel turning away from itself,
The sprawl of the wave,
The on-coming water.

The river turns on itself,
The tree retreats into its own shadow.
I feel a weightless change, a moving forward
As of water quickening before a narrowing channel
When banks converge, and the wide river whitens;
Or when two rivers combine, the blue glacial torrent
And the yellowish-green from the mountainy upland,-
At first a swift rippling between rocks,

Then a long running over flat stones
Before descending to the alluvial plain,
To the clay banks, and the wild grapes
hanging from the elmtrees.
The slightly trembling water
Dropping a fine yellow silt where the sun stays;
And the crabs bask near the edge,
The weedy edge, alive with small snakes and bloodsuckers,-

I have come to a still, but not a deep center,
A point outside the glittering current;
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river,
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains,
My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water.

I am renewed by death, thought of my death,
The dry scent of a dying garden in September,
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire.
What I love is near at hand,
Always, in earth and air.

The lost self changes,
Turning toward the sea,
A sea-shape turning around,-
An old man with his feet before the fire,
In robes of green, in garments of adieu.

A man faced with his own immensity
Wakes all the waves, all their loose wandering fire.
The murmur of the absolute, the why
Of being born fails on his naked ears.
His spirit moves like a monumental wind
That gentles on a sunny blue plateau.
He is the end of things, the final man.

All finite things reveal infinitude:
The mountain with its singular bright shade
Like the blue shine on freshly frozen snow,
The after-light upon ice-burdened pines;
Odor of basswood on a mountain-slope,
A scent beloved of bees;
Silence of water above a sunken tree:
The pure serene of memory in one man,-
A ripple widening from a single stone
Winding around the waters of the world.

Program Note:

I composed my setting of Theodore Roethke’s The Far Field in 1997, over the course of a month; there was a deadline for a performance that in the end was cancelled at the last minute due to an illness. Writing this piece was emotionally difficult for me. At the time, I had written a string of short chamber pieces, and wanted to tackle something large to shake myself out of the pattern. The large-scale trajectory of Roethke’s text moves from a point of isolation and a fearful contemplation of mortality and decay to a place beyond acceptance of one’s own death, to an embrace of it. The rapidity with which I had to set this monumental, beautiful text meant that I had to live with it intimately for that month, and ultimately take that same journey with the poet. I had trouble with this, and would find myself in a sullen funk for days at a time. In the end I found a place within myself to find the beauty in death that Roethke found, and set it that way. As I write these program notes four years later, I look back on that process and that text and can’t help but regard it as one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received, and thank Roethke for it.