D(i)agon(als) for solo clarinet was commissioned by the friends, family, and students of Professor Russell Dagon and is dedicated to Russell Dagon by the composer.
The work, which is five minutes in duration, is marked with this performance indication: "Passionate and rubato; like a jazz improvisation. Accentuate the variety of characters."
Made up of 5 phrases, each of which ends on a fermata, the works characters include: majestic, playful, elegant, spirited, jazzy, calmly floating, bold, with repose, passionate, resolute, assertive, and graceful. The form is slightly unusual in that the five phrases are of asymmetrical length. They last 20, 30, 40, 110, 120 seconds long, respectively, giving the feeling that the first three phrases are warming up to, and building energy and material for, the longer final two phrases. As if the "improviser" takes the materials a little further "out" (in the jazz sense of that word) with each successive phrase. The piece accumulates - rather than being in one of the standard forms, such as ABA form, or rondo form.
The work is called D(i)agon(als) for two reasons: First, I wanted to have the name DAGON in the title, in a creative way; also because in all of the phrases there is an implied diagonal. By this I mean that there are imbedded, in any phrase, other sub-phrases. A kind imbedded-counterpoint emerges with two or three lines going on at once. For instance, some of the music is made up of long notes and some of short figurations (trills and arabesques) and it is the connection of the two that I find interesting. I always "write out" the trills because I hear them to have more than 2 notes, to be sporadic in rhythm, and thus, not to be just a simple trill. A highly nuanced trill or arabesque, with a particular shape and inner life is more interesting to my ears. I use many grace notes. Another example of the imbedded counterpoints comes from the fact that the clarinet has many different colors, especially from range to range. The lowest chalumeau register is rich, dark and haunting, while the very top clarion range is trumpet-like. Springing back and forth between different registers, and with contrasting dynamics, gives the sensation that more than one voice is in play and that somehow the truth of the piece is in the diagonal between the various intersections.
While the music was very carefully made, and is highly nuanced, and is a "serious" piece of music, it should sound free, spontaneous, jazzy, playful, as if improvised, and alive.
The dazzling premiere performance was on May 20, 2005 at Northwestern University by J. Lawrie Bloom.
— Augusta Read Thomas
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