For this piece, I mainly worked on one thing – being economical and cohesive with my musical materials. Previous pieces I had allowed to take off in whatever directions they wanted – they weren’t bad, but that was one area that they didn’t really excell at. But for this piece, I planned it out in advance, drew up a little diagram of the piece, and worked very hard to stick to it. I planned for a 6-minute piece and ended up with a 7-minute piece. Not bad, and part of that came from dialing down the initial tempo (because quarter equals 184 turned out to be a bit much). My two previous pieces ended up being twice as long as I originally intended. So, I did what I set out to do, and both this piece and future pieces ended up being much more cohesive and unified as a result.
As for the ensemble, I had touched on all the other instrumental families except brass, so writing for a brass ensemble seemed like a good idea. Being me, however, with my at-the-time strong preference for heterogeneous ensembles, I had to add something else. Timpani was something that could match the volume of the brass, and I also wanted to make up for an earlier piece where I had written poorly for the timpani. (I essentially treated it like a melodic instrument without any regard for the pedalling needs – you may think this piece has a lot of pedalling, but you should see the other one.) So timpani it was.
I also knew almost immediately that the timpani would be doing more than simply providing harmonic support. If I was going to include it, it would have an active role. This also helped me think of a formal role for the two groups: in the first section, the brass leads; in the second, the timpani leads; and in the third they are both equals. Actually that’s not quite true, since the brass instruments still carry most of the melodic material, but the timpani does occupy a very “elevated” position of importance compared to most other pieces, to the point where it has a solo in the middle (this was actually the first thing I wrote). The downside is, it’s hard, and requires a lot of energy and focus from the player.
So, I set out to write a piece for brass, and ended up with a timpani showcase piece instead. Mind you, the brass parts aren’t easy either. But the timpani part’s the real challenge. This piece also marked the first unleashing of my “aggressive” side – it’s cropped up multiple times since and doesn’t show any signs of going away.
April 2, 2014: University of Louisville
For brass quartet and timpani
Kris Peysen Composer