AGAINST THE DARKNESS began as a mini-opera based on one of the folk tales in the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones compiled by Paul Reps. Several years after it was written, I was persuaded to recast the work as a purely instrumental chamber piece. The original story is about an arrogant monk's road to satori. Along the way, his hubris is challenged by an old woman who poses a koan, a philosophical question he can't answer. After much wandering and an agony of atonal self-doubt, he meets a famous Zen master and asks his advice. The master tells him to come back the next day, observes that it is dark outside, and hands the monk a lighted candle. But just as the monk takes the candle, the master blows it out, and in that instant the monk experiences sudden enlightenment. The music follows this general story line in three scenes depicting the initial arrogance, the baffling koan, and the final escape through enlightenment. Like the monk, the music fights its way through a tangled harmonic labyrinth, emerging at last in a fountain of pure C major to end in a mood of serene meditation.
PASATIEMPOS was composed in 1993 for a fellow student at a Spanish language school in Costa Rica and was first performed in a talent show at the end of the term. There are four short movements, and except for the title, there is nothing Latin American about it. The work also exists in a version for unaccompanied oboe.
The PARTITA for solo viola is the first of many little suites for unaccompanied instruments and the earliest composition I have kept. I was nineteen, newly married, and very happy at the time this was written. In a burst of optimism, I put aside my student work and abandoned the complex, empty, and essentially ugly music that was fashionable in music schools in those days. I turned instead to a music that was melody-driven, harmonically direct, and rhythmically dance-like. I wanted my music to fit the instrument so as to exploit the beautiful, traditional sonorities that came naturally to it. These ideals remained at the heart of nearly all my work for the next forty-eight years. The five short movements are titled Prelude, Caprice, Romance, Scherzo, and Charivari.
DIVERTIMENTO for unaccompanied bassoon dates from 1991 and was first performed by Alan Futterman for an audience of children at his daughter's grade school. The viola partita shows the obvious influence of Bartók, but this piece is much smoother in style and harks back to the Bach cello suites. The four movements are titled Praeludium, Aria, Menuetto, and Saltarello.
In 1957, while still in graduate school, I was much taken with the natural horn and wrote a number of pieces, including a concerto, that exploited the unique qualities of this old style of playing. The built-in diatonic nature of the horn fit perfectly with the diatonic, major-key tone world I was beginning to call my own. FLOURISHES are a selection of five duets from this period, and although in this recording they are played on modern valve horns, the original flavor remains. The movements are titled Fanfare, Scherzo, Intermezzo, Nocturne, and Ländler.
BEYOND THE CLOUDS is a suite of five pieces composed at various times in the sixties for Lynne Palmer who taught me all I know about the harp. The suite became part of her repertoire and through her students spread to many fine harpists in the Northwest. The pieces were conceived as dances in a quasi baroque style with a respectful bow to the old French clavecin masters.
CRADLE TUNE was composed in July 1999 for the birth of Saana Anita, daughter of Daniel and Irma Gordon in Plattsburgh, New York. Four months later, Dan and I played the first performance for the baby girl. She slept right through it!
HEART SPRINGS is a setting of four poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It was composed in 1958 for the girls' choir at Helen Bush School in Seattle and was first performed by them under the direction of Midge Bowman. This is another work from my "natural horn" period, and the character of the music clearly shows the influence of these special horn sounds.
Notes by J.D. Lamb
Repeat that, repeat.
Cuckoo, bird, and open ear wells,
heart-springs, delightfully sweet,
With a ballad, with a ballad, a rebound
Off trundled timber and scoops of the hillside ground,
hollow hollow hollow ground:
The whole landscape flushes on a sudden at a sound.
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by,
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed;
It is the blight that man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
A nun takes the veil
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Text by Gerard Manley Hopkins
This recording is dedicated to Mary Lamb who inspired my earliest music and much more besides.
Art – Sydney Stibbard
Recording, editing and mastering – Al Swanson (Against the Darkness recorded by Rob Gwynn at Crystal Records studio in Camas, WA, assisted by Linda Felver)
Production – J.D. Lamb
All selections licensed by ASCAP
Published byNÄCKENS VÄNNER
1907 East Blaine
Seattle, WA 98112
©® 2002 by John David Lamb
This project owes much to Al Swanson whose sharp ears and sound musicianship go far beyond engineering.