EVOCATION II – Double Stop Etude or Relationship Elegy?

Edward Elder and Danny Ashkenasi - 4/25/1998

Edward Elder and Danny Ashkenasi – 4/25/1998

There were about 200 wedding guests present when Ed and I got married (the first time) April 25, 1998.  It took at least an hour for the reception line to make its full way past us.  And with the expected good wishes and hugs there was also the occasional conversation that went something like this:

Guest: “So, your second year.  That must have been hard.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Guest: “The music for the second duet was so sad.  Like you two got through a really difficult time that year.”

Me: “Oh no. The piece is not biographical.  I just wanted to write something with double stops for the viola.”

Guest: “Really.” (With an expression that is both skeptical and concerned.)

Me: “Yes, truly.  Ed needed to practice double stops.  We were quite happy that year.“

Ed: “Although practicing those double stops did drive me to tears…”

Moving on to the next guest, with the passing one looking unconvinced…

E 2 b

Part of our wedding ceremony included the playing of the four viola/piano duets I had composed for Ed so far.  I compose a new Evocation every year for his birthday and we got married on the fifth anniversary of our meeting.  The Wedding Fanfare I wrote to open and close the wedding ceremony would later be lengthened to become Evocation 5.  Evocation 2, the second piece in a series that now counts 22 viola/piano duets, is the rather dark, forbidding piece that caused so much concern and speculation amongst our guests.  Since it was announced that the viola/piano duets were composed one a year for Ed, it should perhaps not be surprising that biographical narratives would be ascribed to the music.  But that would be incorrect.  The Evocations don’t evoke biography or narrative, they are always “merely” an evocation of a musical idea.  As they develop they may capture a particular emotion or paint a particular picture quite strongly, but not by biographical design.  I am simply following a musical idea as it presents itself and develops.

E 2 c

For Evocation 2 I decided I would write a piece with double stops.  Double stops arise when the bow of a stringed instrument like a violin, viola or cello plays on two strings simultaneously (triple stops for three strings).  Ed had struggled with the double stops in Evocation 1, but those had also required difficult fingering on both strings.  For Evocation 2 I thought I would compose double stops with always one open string – meaning one string doesn’t need a finger placed on it, functioning almost like a drone tone does for a bag pipe, except in this case the drone tone might be higher than the melody line played on the other string.  I figured this would be easy to play and increase Ed’s comfort level with double stops.

E 2 d

I was wrong.  (“Oh how very wrong you were” Ed mutters darkly reading this over my shoulder.)  It was easier, but not easy.  The crunchy close harmonies bedeviled Ed, who instinctively would nudge his pitches away from the minor and major seconds involved.   And the high pitched major sevenths I thought would be played with an open A string ended up being more easily achieved with splayed fingers over two strings.  Oh well.  And then there were my passionate commands to “not just play the notes” but “put your emotion into it”.  Because it turned out Evocation 2’s double stops would lead the piece to evoke rather dark and grim music.  And as I hectored Ed during playing sessions to capture the “cry of despair” and “dark night of the soul” that defined the musical expression of Evocation 2, poor Ed came close to his own personal cry of despair and dark day of the soul.  No, Evocation 2 is not a biographical piece of music about trying times in our relationship, but it was the only reason there were tears that year in our relationship.  I say that as a joke, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also true.

E 2 e

These triple stops at the coda use two open strings, with the middle string in the threesome being fingered to hit the high notes in the chord.

Finally, a caveat about the recording below.  As for Evocation 1, it is a computer generated recording.  And as such, it captures the essence of Evocation 2 even more imperfectly than the computer recording did for Evocation 1.  In fact, by some unfathomable electronic quirk the computer doesn’t even play every written double stop properly (as in measure 14).  In addition to the viola double stops, I was experimenting with unusual rolled chords on the piano, with the pedal depressed over lengthy time periods, creating a reverberating grotto or cathedral effect especially noticeable when played on an open concert grand.  But the computer doesn’t capture the echoing and complementing reverberations of unmuted piano strings at all.  So that crucial effect is lost.  And although the computer will faithfully hit every string pitch perfectly (except for those it inexplicably ignores), it doesn’t do so with any variation of timbre or feeling.  Really there is no emotion at all.  As Ed says, “the computer is consistently tight”.  And while Ed may struggle with the dulce on the high strings, one can at least feel and appreciate the emotion in his timid intonation more than in the mechanical, affectless perfection of the computer program.  I hesitate including this track, but Ed feels it is good enough to give a fair idea of the piece.  Some day we’ll save up enough money to hire two virtuosos to play and record all the Evocations.  We’ll have to save up a lot (and ever more with every passing year), as there are already 22 Evocations, and next year there will be 23.

EVOCATION II (as played by the computer)

E 2 a

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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One Response to EVOCATION II – Double Stop Etude or Relationship Elegy?

  1. Joann Elder says:

    Thank you Danny for this Post. Email I manage well, although my server is currently overwhelmed because My new computer is demanding of me things I know not how to do, I congratulate YOU for the seemingly thousands of balls you keep in the air at once. We look forward to a visit.

    Liked by 1 person

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