Refractions I

For vibraphone and piano. Written at SoundMine 2022, a composition internship in collaboration with HERMESensemble and Center Henri Pousseur. In the beautiful surroundings of Grand Commandery Alden Biesen, a group of young composers receives expert coaching for a week to fully develop their compositional qualities.

Refraction is the turning or bending of a light or sound wave when it passes from one medium to another. Most people are familiar with refraction: a common example is putting a straight stick under water, which seems curved when observed. For the source, i.e. the stick, the path is straight, although for the observer, the path is curved. This bending is a result of the changing speed of the wave/particle, which is dependent on the difference in density of the mediums. When the wave hits the medium at an angle, its course changes, thus we speak of refraction.

Refractions I explores a special case of refraction: one where a wave meets the medium at a right angle. Thus the speed of the wave changes, but not the direction. This is modelled musically by setting a fixed and steady pulse, which is manipulated when one of the performers encounters a colourful symmetric chord. An interplay of various polymeters is the result! The Model 1 below.

Model 1: used in Refractions I

At the moment, I am also working on Refractions II, an orchestral piece which explores the same concept, but in an entirely different way.

Refraction can be observed when the beam of light hits the medium at an angle. When the angle is straight, only the speed of the beam changes.

Nine-Tailed Fox

For clarinet, cello and piano (and stopwatch).

Nine-Tailed Fox is inspired on a well-known theme in East Asian mythology. Nine-tailed foxes, also referred to as fox spirits, are magical creatures with the ability to shapeshift into beautiful women. I read about these fox spirits for the first time in classic Chinese literature in 2020. When I came across the wood block prints by the Japanese artist Ogata Gekkō (1859-1920) one year later, I was charmed with how subtly and nuancedly he depicted these creatures.

The music uses a timing technique which enables the performers to explore the freedom and space they individually have. Within reasonable time limits, they are able to respond and interact intuitively, which allows them to play the music as organic and expressive as they see fit, without necessarily disturbing the freedom of other performers. It’s not a freedom caused by lack of restraints (possible chaos?) – it’s freedom caused by enabling the musicians, so they have the tools to achieve what they want (possible harmony?). Listening carefully and responding responsibly, that’s what it is about.

But suddenly in the middle of the piece, everything changes…

Woodblock print of the Nine-Tailed Fox, depicted/designed by Ogata Gekkou.

First Winds (2022)

For clarinet and guitar. 1st prize in III International Competition among composers “THE TIME OF THE GUITAR” 2022.

First Winds is written for Danielle Rossouw and Ekaterina Uvarova. One time, they were searching for music to play, but they couldn’t get their hands on much. I caught their frustration and decided to write a piece for them. Both Danielle and Ekaterina are skilled and talented musicians and it was only natural to pose them a musical challenge without making it difficult for difficulty’s sake. Hence, First Winds came into existence.

The structure of First Winds seems to be based on the dichotomy between measured and unmeasured sections. This dichotomy is false however. This peculiar structure is not created to emphasize the contrasts and differences, but to facilitate balance and harmony in the piece as a whole. In some way, this piece is an exercise in reciprocal writing on macro and micro level. Achieving harmony on meso level is entrusted to the performers: time markings are meant to guide the size and internal time distribution of unmeasured sections, as well as to aid in balancing the composition in its entirety.

It’s not possible to listen to a live performance of First Winds yet.

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

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

Memory Lane (2021)

For clarinet, cello and piano. Third prize in the Prinses Christina Compositieconcours 2020.

At a certain point when writing Memory Lane, I thought mockingly of what I had written. Being in an early stage of development, the piece lacked coherency, which caused some sections to stand on their own. It reminded me slightly of the famous ride of theme park De Efteling, Carnaval Festival. Since it was a similar carrousel-like experience of emotions, reminiscences and atmospheres to me, but lacking in an overarching theme and connected styles and music, I was irritated limitlessly. I thought to myself that Memory Lane (‘down the memory lane’) could convey this very idea, and thus the name was given. After a quick google I found a movie with the same name, but there are no further connections, I’m afraid. After thematic structure was established and the piece finished for a good deal, I managed to see the title in a more positive light. The passages I was previously discontented with, now contextually and strategically placed, aroused a deep sense of nostalgia in me. The title became something to be proud of, since I now actually enjoy those parts which sound the most nostalgic and memory triggering to me. I have always struggled with this nostalgic nature. On the one hand, I am often emotionally troubled, but on the other hand, I realize the importance of living and dealing with the present, in order to make good memories and thus live a life one could enjoy living.

The often improvisatory-like atmosphere and gamelan-like playing of Memory Lane tend to give the piece an oriental air. Moreover, while some moments are contemplative and feel endless, others are extremely real, dramatic or even mourning-like, while others are volatile, freely and carelessly happening in the moment. Seemingly happening without purpose, flowing in time, but still purposely created in a conspicuous organic way.  Nonetheless, all moments are structured and related to each other somehow, for example by using recurring themes, motives, colours and instrumentation.

Enjoy playing Memory Lane! Purchase the score here!

Maurick Reuser, 27th August 2020