Commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Inscapes is a showpiece for advanced choirs of deeply expressive themes, rich harmonic language, and intricately layered choral textures. Conceived as a contemporary choral “take” on the Classical instrumental sonata, Inscapes begins and ends with grand movements, with Scherzo and Adagio movements in between. 20 minutes.
For several of the last summers, I have been fortunate to spend time among the coastal redwoods of northern California. On my first trip, I was directed toward the favorite grove of a long-time ranger: the Prairie Creek Redwoods. Walking along the path, I turned and found myself flanked on either side by two huge trees that formed a sort of doorway. Stepping through, I felt I had entered an ancient, living cathedral. There was an incredible stillness within, a stillness that seemed awake – as if the trees shared a wordless communion with each other. I pondered in awe the fact that these trees had already been living here together in the silence of this grove for 1500 or 2000 years.
Since that first summer, I have thought about creating a musical piece that might express some of my feeling of reverence for the natural world, and for those trees – and for all trees. After a fruitless search for suitable poetry specifically pertaining to redwoods, I was simultaneously directed toward Gerard Manley Hopkins by two friends, Neil Fancher and Rebecca Reagan. In Hopkins, I found both a general sense of reverence and the specific theme of preservation of wilderness.
At the same time I was formulating my project, I was playing through Beethoven’s complete cycle of piano sonatas. There is a happy affinity between Beethoven and Hopkins: both artists burst the bonds of their formal constraints, “sonata” and “sonnet” form, respectively. Inspired by Beethoven’s winning themes and his magnificent motivic development, I wondered if I could create a “choral” sonata, using texts of Hopkins. There would be grand opening and closing movements, with an intervening scherzo and an adagio of sorts. I selected four of Hopkins’ nature-centric poems, and the adventure began.
The title “Inscapes” comes from Hopkins’ own journals and letter-writing. A term he coined, “inscape” refers to the essential pattern of being of any thing or creature. Because the notion of reverence for each individual being is at the heart of both my creative intentions for this piece, as well as Hopkins’ treatment of his poetic subjects, I thought it a fitting title.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889), now considered one of the greatest Victorian poets of nature and religion, was virtually unknown to the public during his lifetime. A devout Jesuit (he converted to Catholicism while a student at Oxford, against the wishes of his family and most of his friends), Hopkins eschewed worldly ambition while striving mightily as an artist. For all his religious obedience, he wrestled with the strictness of the sonnet form, inventing a freer rhythmic patterning that he called “sprung rhythm.” His poems wed emotional intensity with vivid awareness of the sonic impact of the words themselves, resulting in profundities conveyed through virtuosic word-play. Beloved also for the honesty of his expressiveness, Hopkins displays great range – from the joyous poems of his years studying theology in beautiful Wales, to the awful, pathetic cries of his final, torturous years at his assigned post (mostly spent grading students’ papers) in the dirty air of Dublin.