Renewing Resolutions (2022)

Inspired by the Christmas Holidays, I wrote a new piece for organ.

This small work for solo organ, Renewing Resolutions, is dedicated to organist and pianist Jelena Bazova. She is a great musician who taught me a great deal over the course of my six-year apprenticeship with her. Although she is no longer officially my teacher, her voice and ideas are still reflected in my thoughts.

Renewing Resolutions is thematically inspired by New Year and generally features three ideas. The first is the idea of a vow: a kind of promise is taken, possibly religiously, either for one self or for one other. The second is the idea of doubt: there is a critical reaction on the vow, either by yourself or other people. The third is the idea of fracturing: the vow violently shatters under the influence of doubt and criticism. The interaction and evolution of these three ideas result in a story, appropriately called Renewing Resolutions.

Ideally, this piece is to be played on an organ with at least two manuals and pedals. A swell is preferred, but not necessary. A voix céleste or tremulant stop is preferred to aid in characterizing the celestial sections, but reed stops are absolutely necessary to bring out the character of criticism. The pedal needs a bourdon 16’ or something similar and can be coupled to (one of the) manuals.

Enjoy playing Renewing Resolutions! Purchase the score here!

Maurick Reuser, 3 Januari 2022.

Grass as a Pillow (2021)

For mixed choir a cappella.

This collection, named Grass for a Pillow, takes five of Bashō’s well and lesser known poems and sets them to music for mixed choir a cappella. Each piece expresses some of the many possible meanings a haiku can offer, while trying to imagine the different feeling they might provoke to various listeners and readers. Simultaneously, it’s also a very personal musical rendition. This is the order of the pieces:

I. furu ike ya (an old pond / 古池や) [1’45’’]
II. kare eda ni (on a withered branch / 枯れ枝に) [2’25’’]
III. natsugusa ya (the summer grass / 夏草や) [4’30’’]
IV. kono michi ya (this road / この道や) [2’00’’]
V. ara umi ya (the rough sea / 荒海や) [2’25’’]

The haiku are set in an order in which I expect that the uniqueness of each piece can be most optimally. In addition, haiku I and V are water-themed, II and IV autumn-themed and III is the centrepiece to reflect on previous songs and look forward to the next ones. Performing the entire collection will last approximately 14 minutes.

Enjoy singing Grass for a Pillow! Purchase the score here!

Maurick Reuser, 8 December 2021

And Then I Saw

For electronics (speakers).

An ambient composition inspired on Ogata Gekkou’s woodblock print ”Mount Fuji Reflected in a Waterfall” using Ableton Live.
Be sure to listen with ear or headphones!

Enjoy listening to And Then I Saw!

Maurick Reuser, 16 November 2021.

Clouds, Now and Then (2021)

For soprano, violin and piano (and stopwatch).

Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) is a legendary Japanese poet who adored moon viewing. The so-called tsukimi is an ancient festival in honour of the autumn moon. This could be done at parties where dumplings (dango’s) were eaten and naturally also the moon was observed, preferably via a rippleless surface of a lake. The tsukimi is still a very popular tradition. Sometimes, the moon is not visible because of clouds or rain. Bashō wrote a poem (specifically, haiku) about it:

kumo wori wori           雲をりをり
hito wo yasumuru       人を休むる
tsukimi kana                月見哉

Which could be translated as:

clouds now and then
a moon viewing
giving me rest

The interpretation could be more profound than it initially seems, especially from Bashō’s point of view: Bashō, fascinated with moon viewing, is constantly with his head ‘in the clouds’. Due to clouds sometimes appearing before the moon, it is possible for him to return to himself. Otherwise, he could forget himself entirely.  

The piece Clouds, Now and Then is written for soprano, violin and piano and is inspired by the haiku above. The soprano recites the Japanese haiku in a melismatic way, accompanied by a sterile but colourful line played by the violin. It almost sounds like tangible moonlight. After each singing moment, the violin reacts in a virtuosic and calligraphical way. The piano connects to the poetic whole by growing several types of musical clouds. How will the moon viewing continue?

Enjoy playing Clouds, Now and Then! Purchase the score here!

Maurick Reuser, 19 October 2021

Bright Lights (2021)

Written for organ and soprano. Commissioned for Ruud Huijbregts.

Bright Lights is inspired by the story of St. Catherine of Alexandria, who as chaste and devoted young Christian woman was persecuted and put to death under the reign of Roman emperor Maxentius (306-312). She was exposed to numerous horrors, including imprisonment, starvation and torture. Remarkably, when sentenced to death by a spiked breaking wheel, the awful device shattered upon her touch. As last resort, she was to be beheaded. Upon execution, a milk-like substance flowed from her neck. St. Catherine is remember as a martyr ever since.

Sharp contrasts characterize Bright Lights. Transitoriness is put against the everlasting, conflict against peace, grief against joy. The incredible main organ of the St. Cathirine church is the perfect medium to express all these extremities to the fullest. After a quiet, heavenly and innocent start, conflict kicks in. Constantly interrupted by mourning but hopeful episodes, Catherine witnesses the various horrors. After her decapitation, a bright musical light appears, whereafter the music calms down, as if starting from the beginning again. A voice from high and far appears, bringing a short but glorious message about Catherine. The apotheosis is completed.

Enjoy playing Bright Lights! Purchase the score here.

Maurick Reuser, 27 September 2021

Autumn Colours (2021)

For clarinet, cello and piano (and stopwatch).

Autumn Colours is a trio for clarinet, cello and piano telling an interlaced story. On the one hand, this piece is inspired by the music and life of German composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and on the other hand, this piece is inspired by the woodblock prints by Japanese painter Ogata Gekkou (1859-1920). Both artists are formal contemporaries who yet lived in completely different worlds. Now they finally meet in a single (musical) work of art. 

In the first half of 2021, I was involved in a mini festival organized by the Chimaera Trio: Meervoudig Mahler (‘’Multiple Mahler’’). To this festival, a project was connected in which a few composers got assigned to write a work related to Mahler. While this was in the back of my mind, on 13th July I visited the Sieboldhuis in Leiden, which is an incredible museum dedicated to Japan. It held an exhibition about the Meiji Art of Ogata Gekkou. His prints made such a big impression on me that I purchased the art catalogue and took it with me on my summer travels. In the catalogue, I often revisited the 1896 print Autumn Colours at Takinogawa. This particular triptych not only inspired me to create the blueprint for a musical image as now presented in the score before you, but especially inspired me to design everything in triptych-like structures. One could say there are up to three triptychs in this work.

The first one is Ogata’s literal triptych: Autumn Colours at Takinogawa. Woodblock printing is a technical story, but what especially interests me is that all prints are reproducible and can be subject to reissuing. The result is that more than one copy of Autumn Colours at Takinogawa exists and that each copy differs in colouring. That’s absolutely wonderful! Using independent instrumental parts with buffered timecodes, the musical structuring of Autumn Colours is similar to the woodblock printing process, seeing that in each performance the performer ‘’prints’’ a separate layer of music which complements with the other layers into a single audible image. The second triptych is about Mahler, as his life could be divided into three periods: early, middle and late. Autumn Colours incorporates a melody or motive from each period and distributes them over the three instruments. Using three musical instruments is in itself already a triptych reference. The careful listener/reader could possibly discover another ‘’secret’’ triptych in the piece.

Enjoy playing Autumn Colours! Purchase the music here!

Maurick Reuser, 2 September 2021

Ugetsu (2021)

For bass clarinet, double bass, accordion and percussion (and stopwatch).

Early April 2021 I got a phone call: ‘’Would you like to write for the contemporary music ensemble But What About, which consists of accordion, double bass, clarinet and percussion?’’ Thus I participated in the Gaudeamus Summer School.

In the course of the few months after, gradually an idea developed. Ugetsu finds its origins in a story about Buddhist monk-poet Saigyou, as written by D.T. Suzuki. Saigyou was on one of his travels and one day needed a place to stay for the night. He met an elderly couple who could, hesitantly, only offer him a leaking hut. It turned out that the couple was in a doubt whether to fix the roof or not. The old lady loved the moonlight coming inside, so the hut was left roofless, but the old gentleman enjoyed listening to the rain beating against the roof, which would only be possible after repair. Furthermore, it was already Autumn, which is the finest moon season but also offers enjoyable autumnal showers. Despite the dilemma, Saigyou was allowed to enter if he could elaborate on a few lines suggested by the couple. Hence the following poem came into existence:

Is the moonlight to leak?
Are the showers to patter?
Our thoughts are divided,
And this humble hut –
To be thatched, or not to be thatched?

Saigyou (Suzuki, 1959, p. 340)

While staying the night, Saigyou beheld the moonlight illuminating his surroundings, even shedding its light inside the hut. He also thought he heard the showers coming, but it was the autumn wind making the dead leaves beat against the house. ’It is a shower of falling leaves in the moonlight.’’  The following poem could express this magical experience:

When the dead leaves are falling thick,
As I sit quietly at night in my room,
Difficult it is to judge,
Whether it is showering,
Or whether it is not showering.

Minamoto no Yorizane (Suzuki, 1959, p. 341)

Enjoy playing Ugetsu!

Maurick Reuser, 6 August 2021

Kobucha

For piano solo. Nominated for the Tera de Marez Oyens Award 2021.

Kobucha is a work for piano solo written in 2020, in a period when I was diving into Japanese art and culture, especially aesthetics and the influences of Zen-Buddhism. In addition, I was taking Japanese lessons from a native speaker. In one of those lessons, my teacher gave me a Japanese kelp tea to drink, Kobucha.

Drinking this tea made a deep impression on me. I couldn’t say that the tea was delicious in the way people commonly call foods and beverages delicious – that is the antonym of tasteless. It wasn’t sweet at all and it wasn’t easy to drink. Each sip was a salty hurdle! However, the direct, impulsive and authentic taste was intense, even mind-blowing. In fact, I did like the tea. It was a pleasing experience. Not because of its questioned deliciousness, but because the tea was itself, its authentic self. Taking into account the tea’s pungent aroma, I was forced to do nothing but drinking this tea, swallowing one drop at the time.

Enjoy playing Kobucha! Purchase the score here.

Maurick Reuser, 7 June 2021

Hoshi no kage ni (2021)

For guitar solo. 3rd prize in II International Competition among composers
“THE TIME OF THE GUITAR” 2021.

The name of this guitar work, Hoshi no kage ni (星の影に /In the Shadow of the Stars) is Japanese, but tricky to translate into English, because kage can be translated in multiple ways. It could mean shadow/silhouette, reflection (in water) or even light (of stars or the moon). This means that the title of this work could translated to In the Shadow of the Stars or In the Reflection of a Star or even In the Light of Stars. Personally, as English translation of the title, I prefer In the Shadow of the Stars. However, it does not really matter how you translate it when studying or performing this piece. Whatever your preference is or what inspires you the most for the ultimate guitaristic cause, in the end it matters it matters than you include all these meanings into one title: Hoshi no kage ni.

As composer, I am enchanted by the coming together of Western and Eastern cultures. While there are plenty similarities between East and West, there are striking differences too. While Western thinking is characterized by rationalizing, analysing and classifying, Eastern thinking (by which I specifically mean Japanese Zen Buddhism) is characterized by quite the opposite: engagement in all practical daily experiences in the most simple form. In short, Zen strives to enlightenment, or ultimate freedom of the mind. Without intellectually conceptualizing and rationalizing, things and reality can become itself instead of abstractions, concepts, categories or representations. Things are not problematized, things are not discriminated, things are not dualized. If things are themselves and not excluded, the possibilities are endless. Bluntly speaking, Western thinking tends towards exclusion, while Eastern tends towards inclusion.

Hoshi no kage ni strives to include both worlds of thought while discovering the acoustic possibilities and expressions of one of the most gracious and nuanced instruments known.

Enjoy playing Hoshi no kage ni!

Maurick Reuser, 22 February 2021