regarding "Reconciliation Elegy" (2012)
for unaccompanied violin

 

The piece is not only based "programmatically" on the painting by Motherwell, but a lot of the musical structure originates from the visual image as well. The "Ritornello" in particular is a musical depiction of the image, from left to right.  
If you look at the painting, you see two straight lines, one which splits at the top.  Those are the short eighth-note quad-stops that open the piece, the second one moves up to A-natural, like the line that splits.  Then the arpeggiated sound is the first large black mass on the image... and so on.  There is a musical equivalent for pretty much all the main shapes in the painting.  Also, the large-form of the work is based on the painting with three substantial "sections" (Toccatina, Song without Words and Cadenza-Finale) reflecting the three large shapes.  

 

In terms of the musical language, it is meant to evoke the high contrast of the visual language of the painting - basically the juxtaposition between expanses of white and large black shapes (this is, by the way, a hallmark of Motherwell's painting, and can be seen elsewhere, most notably in the series of paintings titled "Elegy to the Spanish Republic".  The character of the different movements is (perhaps) an attempt to portray varied responses of actually looking at the painting - a reaction of conflict or upset (Toccatina), a reaction of melancholy or empathy (Song without Words), a reaction of confusion or bewilderment.  The returning "ritornello" acts to remind the listener that all of these responses are based off of the same fixed object (a painting).  

 

In summary, the piece is not so much about the meaning behind the painting (which is not for me to define) but the actual "looking-at" of the painting itself.  Hence the title:  regarding "Reconciliation Elegy" .  It's my best attempt to capture the experience of seeing this huge visual expanse and trying to take it all in.  I can say personally that the experience is humbling, due to the sheer size of the image.  Rather than create a work for large musical forces, I thought it more appropriate to provide the commentary via a single, versatile voice - and the violin was the obvious choice here.  The capabilities of the violin for conveying multiple distinct emotions and personalities makes it possible to capture the sizable landscape of sentiments that the painting represents. 

The piece was written for, and is dedicated to, friend and violinist Lauren Rausch who gave its premiere at the Peabody Conservatory in May 2012. 

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Robert Motherwell
Reconciliation Elegy
1978
(120 x 363 7/8 in.)
acrylic on canvas
National Gallery of Art (East), Washington, DC

Photo by the composer

© 2018 Sean Doyle.  All rights reserved.