Arabesque noir for Orchestra
I. Looking for an Angel
II. Evening Love
III. In the Still, I Will Wait
Arabesque Noir was inspired by the ornamental designs found in Arabic and Moorish decoration. The music reflects the florid ornamentation with flowing melodies and motifs that are sinuous, spiraling and undulating. It seeks to capture the complicated relationships between slaves and their masters; the subtle, hidden and forbidden interactions that can occur, such as the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
Looking for an Angel opens with a sweeping melody for solo flute that spans more than two octaves. Upon the second statement of the theme, the flute melody is imitated by the oboe, accompanied by the strings. The two instruments cross parts and intertwine until the bassoon, clarinet and trumpet join the imitative texture. The oboe states a second theme, similar to one heard in Harbach’s Early American Scandals, Looking for an Angel, found in the second movement of that work, River Styx. One can interpret the second theme as representing the seeking out of an angel to bring happiness to a life without hope. After a short transition, the horn takes up the theme with the trumpet, oboe and clarinet joining the imitation. The sweeping first theme returns with the melody now in the first violins. The mood changes as the horn states a new theme, She’s a Woman, Simply Woman, which depicts the enchantment between lovers and features an expansive range with strings interjecting “comments” as would a Greek chorus. The trombone takes over while the Looking for an Angel theme returns in a three-part canon in the woodwinds. As the She’s a Woman theme finishes, the woodwinds begin a three-part canon in diminution, having half rhythmic values. The conversation is ended when the timpani begins an insistent five-note motive. The violins and oboe play the opening theme in imitation, being joined by the flute, horn and viola. The movement ends quietly with only a fragment of Looking for an Angel.
Evening Love depicts lovers wrapped in the arms of the night, with arabesque melodies descending in a tetrachord in the bass, viola gently repeating its motive while the second violins enter on a single pitch. The first violins follow with a slow, gently moving theme. Pizzicatos in the viola, cellos and bass provide accompaniment under the flute and violin duet. A second theme emerges in the trumpet, echoed by the oboe. Their interplay continues until the flute starts a descending and then ascending motive that is imitated by the first violins. All themes begin to vie for attention until the horn introduces the melody, A Slave to Love, with its double meaning of being a slave, but also being in love – “now I’m a slave to love, and so enslaved by love remain”. All themes return and compete for dominance, interacting and intertwining, sinuous and seductive.
In the Still I will Wait continues exploring clandestine trysts of lovers, and even if parted by death, I will wait for you, my heart. The movement opens with a descending cadenza-like figure in the solo first violin accompanied by the flute. A gentle and beguiling ascending waltz melody opens with the clarinet in canon with the flute – an octave higher – and strings, with 3/4 passages being interrupted by passages in 2/4. A new ascending theme emerges in the trumpet imitated by the oboe in canon at the unison, followed by a return of the first theme as a horn and trumpet duet, imitated by flute, oboe and clarinet. The trombone introduces a new theme, with numerous comments from the woodwinds, which is repeated with a canon among the trumpet, horn and clarinet that leads to a climax using material from the introductory cadenza. The first theme returns, but this time in the first violins. Imitation in the strings and woodwinds is heard, leading to a section of several themes weaving in and out, with instruments vying to project their lines. In the Still I will Wait closes with gestures of the opening cadenza motif, fading away like the memories of long ago.