Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September Listening

This months listening is a combination of several musical timbres.  Joseph Schwantner's Sparrows is written for winds (flute, clarinet), strings (solo violin, viola, cello), piano, harp, lots of percussion, and solo soprano.  It is a wind piece, chamber music, and vocal piece with a text based upon Issa (1763-1828).

The first reaction will probably be 'oh great - weird 20th century stuff.'  But the piece has surprisingly tender and beautiful moments throughout.  And Schwantner is stunningly brilliant when it comes to tonal color.

At about 16 minutes long, it shouldn't be too taxing and can be found easily on campus through Naxos.

Enjoy and I am looking forward to your comments.  I will leave a copy of the score in the library for those interested in a more detailed listening of the piece.


  1. I found the recording on NAXOS. I found the it off of a “music of amber” record. The opening chords are incredibly startling. What makes the super high (bowed cymbal) sounds in the beginning sections? Schwantner is an absolute master of texture and piano harmony. I found this piece to be super tense in its harmonies. My favorite parts are when the strings seem to crescendo out of nothing. With that super hip ostinato rhythm starting at 7:26 on the NAXOS recording. What a beautiful song.

  2. Sparrows (several times)

    Come then, come hither;
    Play your games and bide with me,
    Motherless Sparrow.

    The plum tree blossoms;
    The nightingale sings;
    But I am alone.

    The autumn wind!
    Even the mountain's shadow
    Trembles before it.

    Through this world of ours
    The butterfly's existence -
    Such a hastening!

    Wild Geese, hush your cry!
    Wherever you go it is the same -
    The floating world!

    A note from the bell -
    A cry from the waterfowl -
    And nights darkness!

    Heedless that the tolling bell
    Marks our own closing day -
    We take this evening cool.

    The night is dim.
    But over the falls that ran with wine
    Stands the moon.

    What loveliness!
    Seen through a crack in the wall
    The River of Heaven!

    By night sacred music
    And into the flare of the torches
    Float crimson leaves!

    And, when I die,
    Be thou guardian of my tomb,

    Cry not, insects,
    For that is a way
    We all must go -

    A glimpse of the Moon -
    A note from the Nightingale -
    And the night's over!

    Greet the new sky
    With consonance or harmonies -
    Right to the Sparrows!