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‌tristis,senex,puerum‌ for Chamber Orchestra (2013) ! ! ! William Pearson!

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Program Note:


Clepsydra and …tristis,senex,puerum… are the first two movements of a as-of-yet unfinished larger staged work. Both movements have a few simple beliefs at their core: that meaning is made possible through hierarchical architectures, that architectures (ideas, objects, expressions) can transcend their constituent parts to become wholes, and that, as a result, there is an incredible amount of depth to even a simple whole object, idea or expression.


In Clepsydra, these ideas are expressed in the instruments themselves. Each of the four instruments has a physical threshold separating the lower-order from the higher-order. These thresholds range from the line between breath and tone to the cello’s bridge to the physical organization of the percussionist’s stacked setup. The simple ‘whole’ in much of Clepsydra is pitch, a higher-order concept, one that requires tremendous effort and contains inherent instability. The ‘parts’ are the physical actions of the performers, which are written as plainly as possible in graphic notation. To preserve this relationship between parts and wholes, there is an attempt to close the gap between the score and the physicality of the performers. The score is not interpreted so much as it is transcribed: the aforementioned thresholds are represented graphically in the clefs (as well as physically in the instruments or setups), many necessary performer motions (including all breathing for the winds) are scored regardless of whether they make a sound, and the staging setup uses projection and light to blur the difference between the score and the physicality of the performers. The architecture of Clepsydra is evident from the score: an endless forward, linear motion which occasionally gathers and breaks through into a welldefined peak. At 6’31”, the piece changes, quite suddenly giving way to a broader world of expressive representation.


If Clepsydra is an attempt to build an expressive foundation or stage (from the ground-up, so to speak), …tristis,senex,puerum… is an attempt to build an expressive setting, in particular, a choir room (crystalizing from the walls-inward). As a young boy, I sang Renaissance Music in a professional Anglican Boys Choir in Upstate New York. I was utterly devoted to the choir, and my relationship to it was truly formative, a source of great meaning in my life. In …tristis… I attempt to weave my memories of this choir experience into the formal architecture of the piece. The Chamber Orchestra in …tristis… is split into three smaller groups, arranged in lines, one for each wall of the choir room (the fourth wall, missing), with the “choir director” in the middle, conducting and singing from the piano. The dramatic arc of the work follows a slow crystallization of the Conductor-Ensemble (or Choirmaster-Choir) dynamic from a looser, decentralized system of cues (a ‘rehearsal’), culminating in a strictly conducted quotation from an earlier work of mine, Unda Maris (a ‘performance’). After the quotation, emphasis is placed on the intrinsic vulnerability of expression, especially expression within a group.


…tristis,senex,puerum… does not exist in full-score form, but only as three simultaneously performed chamber-scores. I have marked these as scores A, B and C.

General Performance Notes:


This piece divides the Chamber Orchestra into three smaller groups. Each performer plays from the score of their smaller group, and each group has the piano/conducting part as a mostly (there are intentional differences between each group) common denominator. Performers do not need to be aware of what the other groups are doing, as each group is similarly tethered to the piano/conducting part. This should result in a somewhat loose but still controlled ensemble dynamic.! The first seven pages of the piece are timestamped, but this is only a general recommendation of how quickly the page should pass. Page turns are sometimes notated with a boxed P symbol.! All necessary cues are marked in the score with dotted lines. They either indicate where something should line up (a straight dotted line) or give a cue to react to (a straight dotted line with a horizontal jag at the end). The timing of the reaction should be calm, never hurried, and needn’t be consistently timed with the ensemble or with other reaction-cues.! Cues from the piano may be from played notes, clusters, sung notes (diamond noteheads), the conductor raising their hand (double uparrow in the Piano treble clef), the conductor standing (double up-arrow in the Piano bass clef), pedal-stomps (indicated with “ * ” below the Piano clef) or normal conducting cues. These “normal” conducting cues first appear prior to an actual tempo, and are notated as large numerals over the piano clef, with corresponding hand movement diagrams.! Page 8 is conducted with a tempo. This section is a quote from an earlier work of mine, Unda Maris for chamber ensemble.! After the quote, attention needs to be directed towards the piano itself. One of the percussionists will be opening and closing the lid of the piano, and all cues are related to the motion of the lid. The lid movements are notated as wedges (filled-in for opening, empty for closing) above the piano staff.! Notation enclosed in large brackets is to be stretched over the given time until the lid movement indicates a change (ie : a decrescendo to silence). Time stamping used in this section of the piece needn’t be precise, though each chamber ensemble should attempt to lineup dynamic changes. In the Piano part, the large brackets (page 9) indicate an improvisational section of indeterminate length. This section should include full or fragmented snippets of singing, playing or conducting from earlier in the work. It may also include full or fragmented phrases from the choral music canon of the Renaissance. (Suggestions : Gombert - Lugebat David Absalon, Palestrina - Sicut Cervus)

Winds: Square Noteheads -

Air sound, blown through the instrument.

X Noteheads -

Air sound, blown through the instrument, but while fingering the given pitch.

Diamond Noteheads -

Singing, always through the instrument, always notated in C.

Double Up Arrow -

Raise hand for duration notated.

Trill (with air) -

Rapid fingering (or slide) changes while blowing through the instrument.

Air clef - || -

Shows relative pitch of the air sound. This can be achieved through changing the direction of the airstream into the instrument, or by using the right hand with the horn. Other methods, such as taking the mouthpiece (or reed) out of the instrument and blowing into it that way, moving the trombone slide, etc. can be used as well. The goal is to have as much differentiation as possible in tone between the low- air and the high-air.

Strings: X Noteheads -

Pitchless, or nearly pitchless sound. Muted with the left hand. If a muted glissandi occurs on a specific note, it is not important that your muting hand precisely follow the notated pitch, but should follow the general range of the notated glissandi.

Diamond Noteheads -

Either harmonics (if string or touch-fourth notated) or singing (if followed by a squiggly line).

Double Up Arrow -

Raise hand for duration notated.

Bridge Clef -

This clef shows the area from the bottom of the fingerboard to the bridge. Sections using this clef involve pressing the bow parallel to the indicated string (usually muted with the left hand).

Perforated Notation -

This technique involves using pressure to produce a rather scratchy sound which will change in tone depending on how far the bow is from the bridge. The goal is to produce a somewhat consistent “perforated� sound, meaning that it has a jagged texture, as if notches have been cut out of the sound.



Use wire brushes throughout - The speed of circular brushing on the cymbal and drumheads is indicated by the number of rotations that should be made in the given time (1x, 2x, etc) Top space - Suspended Cymbal. Middle line - Snare Drum (snares on). Bottom Space - Bass Drum. Treble Clef - Glockenspiel During the quotation section, the suspended cymbal is notated with an X notehead.

! ! ! ! Lugebat David Absalon, pius pater filium, tristis senex puerum: Heu me, fili mi Absalon, quis mihi det ut moriar, ut ego pro te moriar, O fili mi Absalon! Rex autem David filium, cooperto flebat capite: Quis mihi det ut moriar, O fili mi, O fili mi!

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Group A Violin Flute Oboe Trombone Bb Bass Clarinet


Group B Viola Bb Clarinet F Horn Bb Trumpet Bass


Group C Percussion 1 Percussion 2 Cello Tuba


— Piano/Conductor

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Perc I


Cello Bass Cl.






! Fl.

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Perc 2
















...tristis,senex,puerum... score A