To Vincent's Stars, for solo bass clarinet and wind band
(Solo Bs., Clar. with Picc., 2 fl., ob., Eng. hn., 4 Bb clars., sop. sax., alto sax., ten. sax., bar. sax., 3 trps in Bb., 4 Hns. in F, Trbn., Bs. Trbn., Euph., Tba., Contrabs., timp., 4 perc.)
Performance materials will include PDF downloads for Full Score, Solo Bass Clarinet, and Parts.
The title of this work, To Vincent’s Stars, refers to the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh who preferred to sign his work, simply, “Vincent.” The son of a pastor, he sought throughout his life to comprehend the relationship between his own life and the eternal, even as he suffered severe medical challenges including psychotic episodes and (probably) temporal lobe epilepsy and manic-depressive mood swings, all of which contributed to his chronic professional failures. After failing at an office job, he worked as an evangelist among coal miners in Belgium, then as a teacher, before deciding to pursue art as a profession. As he struggled with his illness and the challenges of finding a viable path as an artist, he continued to ponder his very personal concept of eternity which he increasingly came to associate with the night sky (exemplified in his most famous painting, The Starry Night). In a letter to fellow painter Emile Bernard, Vincent imagined that, after life on earth had ended, one might be able to continue to make art in a different world, in a transformation “no more surprising than the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly.” He continued, “…nothing stands in the way of the supposition that on the other…planets and suns there may also be lines and shapes and colors….We’re still at liberty to retain a relative serenity as to the possibilities of doing painting in better and changed conditions of existence….That existence of painter as butterfly would have for its field of action one of the innumerable stars, which, after death, would perhaps be no more unapproachable to us than the black dots that symbolize towns and villages on the map in our earthly life.”
This composition is inspired by Vincent van Gogh's dedication to finding joy in the work of making art, despite the harsh realities of his illness and his lack of any professional success, as well as by distinctive features of the technique he found so personally therapeutic – building rich colors and textures from countless individual brush strokes that gradually reveal powerful gestures and forms. (The opening music unfolds at the rate that such brushstrokes can be made, for example.) A theme borrows from a late 19th century Dutch Reformed hymn (of the kind Vincent often quoted in his letters) with the text, “Behold the lofty sky…and all His starry works on high.” In composing this music, I imagined a narrative in which Vincent’s dream of a transformation that would allow him to continue his art eternally - building new “lines and shapes and colors” on one of the innumerable stars - might have actually come true in some way. Without any doubt, Vincent’s work and his ideas continue to be powerfully present in our understanding of the nature of art and the artist, and to inspire new generations here on earth.
To Vincent's Stars was commissioned by the Dutch bass clarinet virtuoso Henri Bok, who premiered the piece with the Luxembourg Military Band in a Gala Concert at the 2018 conference of the International Clarinet Association in Ostend, Belgium. The Spanish premiere was given on March 7, 2020, in San Sebastian, Spain, with Henri Bok as soloist with conductor/composer Joseba Torre Alonso and the Banda Sinfonica of the Higher Education of the Basque Country Center for Music. Additional performances in the United States are in the planning stages. The live recording of that performance - one of the last given in Spain before COVID-19 changed everything - is especially moving now.
-- Paul Seitz