Sandburg Songs

Matthew Wayne Schreibeis (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formDigital, visual or audio products


Inner Truth
Inner Truth was commissioned by pianist Eunmi Ko as part of a series of works honoring the centennial birth year of the Korean composer, Isang Yun (1917-1995), and premiered by Daniel Pesca at PianoForte Chicago in 2018. The direct inspiration for my work was a single line in a 1987 interview Yun gave to the American radio broadcaster, Bruce Duffie: “Music is the expression of an inner truth, and this inner truth is naturally a mirror of today’s events.” I wanted to reflect upon this idea of “inner truth”, something which might be rather quiet or hidden or elusive at the start, but which later emerges as a bold, unwavering force—a force which was with us from the very beginning. My piece seeks to capture these two sides of this primal energy. The work is cast in four broad sections and begins in the piano’s upper register with a series of ascending, sparkling gestures, marked scintillante, luminoso. A contrasting scherzando activates the instrument’s low register for the first time and introduces several new ideas, which develop like waves, despite recurring interruptions and silences. What follows is a kind of slow processional, hazy and mysterious. In the work’s ending sections, the entire register of the instrument is deployed, first with grand, heroic gestures and bold harmonies, then through passages of light, graceful, running scales and staccato leaping lines, and finally with a series of maestoso, pesante chords, grand arpeggios, and a final defiant flourish.

In Noticing, for clarinet and violin, I tried to capture the sense of gradually perceiving something as it unfolds around you. Much of the music is characterized by a broad, folk music-like melody that emerges in both instruments but in slightly different ways. This presentation of a single melodic line, but in multiple voices and with varied rhythms, was inspired by aspects of Korean traditional music. A faster middle section contrasts with energetic lines and stark violin outbursts. The work closes with a return of the melody in the clarinet, embellished by light, scattered figures in the violin’s highest register. Noticing was composed with the support of a Subito Grant from American Composers Forum and premiered by clarinetist Bill Kalinkos and violinist Yuki Numata at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia in 2010.

In Search of Planet X
My trio’s title, In Search of Planet X, takes its name from Percival Lowell’s 1906 search for a planet beyond Neptune. Lowell used the term “Planet X” to represent this unknown force. While composing, I was inspired not only by the remarkable quest upon which Lowell hinged his reputation, but also by the sense of possibility and discovery and wonder and mystery that such a search represented. These qualities are conveyed first through a series of episodes—highly-syncopated and always forward-driven; later through a sparse, slow-moving passage that builds to a multi-layered climax; and finally in a brief, scurrying coda. In Search of Planet X was premiered by musicians at the Music09 Festival at the Hindemith Foundation in Blonay, Switzerland: clarinetist Michael Maccaferri, violinist Aida Boiesan, and pianist Johanna Ballou.

They Say
More than most instruments, I have always thought of the guitar an instrument for storytelling, especially of very old tales. This idea became the basis for They Say, a three-movement work in which each movement’s title is taken from the opening words of three common vernacular expressions. “Actions speak,” the opening movement, begins with a four-note gesture followed by silence. This gesture is the first of a series of musical questions, and its inquisitive, unfinished quality points to the general mood of the movement. “Absence makes”, presents a more direct form of storytelling, as the guitarist hums a quiet melody, the tune’s simplicity belying an underlying tension found in the accompaniment’s erratic nature. “All good things”, the comodo finale, tells a story through a recurring tune, quite traditional in its initial presentation, but becoming increasingly disjointed as it proceeds, ultimately transforming the guitar into a percussion instrument. At the movement’s conclusion, musical quotations of each of the previous movements are paired with spoken quotations of their titles. Only with the final title is the expression resolved, as the whole work “come[s] to an end” in a final brusk flourish. They Say was composed for guitarist Dieter Hennings, who gave the work’s premiere at the 2018 New Music Symposium and Festival at the University of South Florida.

Sandburg Songs
What strikes me most about Carl Sandburg’s poetry is his distinct cadence and searing, vivid imagery. There is an immediacy to his words that brings the stories and souls of the past to our present day. In his fantastic and evocative Chicago Poems (1916), Sandburg captures the life of a great American city—its trains, mills, and skyscrapers—and its people—their struggles, hopes, and dreams. I tried to capture this place and these dreams in my work. Sandburg Songs is cast in five movements, with the second (Mill-Doors) and fourth (Limited) being short, fast, and intensely forward-driven, while the first (Lost) and third (Subway) are longer and more varied in their moods and tempi. The final movement (Passers-by) is the most substantial of the set in terms of length and musical weight. Throughout the piece, extended passages for ensemble alone evolve vivid “landscapes” from which the voice emerges. While composing, I had in mind the extraordinary soprano, Tony Arnold, to whom the work is dedicated and who gave its premiere with conductor Tim Weiss at the soundSCAPE Festival in Maccagno, Italy in 2015.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAlbany, NY, USA.
PublisherAlbany Records
Media of outputCD
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Music

User-Defined Keywords

  • Contemporary music
  • Song cycle
  • Chamber music


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