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Goldbeater’s Skin

About the work:

for percussion quartet and mezzo-soprano
duration: 21 minutes

Commissioned by/Premiere:

Commissioned by Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting and the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. The world premiere was given by Third Coast Percussion and Rachel Calloway on February 4, 2017

Listen:

Score:

Purchase from Project Schott New York.

About the work:

I met the poet G.C. Waldrep at the MacDowell Colony in 2015 and was immediately drawn to him as both a poet and person—friendly, unique, and for a poet, deeply musical. In addition to his study of poetry, he was trained as a countertenor and professed his love for composers like Meredith Monk and David Lang. We bonded over our shared love for the books of Italo Calvino and the poetry of James Wright. So naturally I was curious about his work.

I tore through his many published volumes, and was drawn in particular to his first collection of poems, Goldbeater’s Skin, written twenty years ago, when he was about my age. I found it to be particularly pregnant with musical possibilities (actual musical allusions abound), so I decided to craft a new work for voice and percussion quartet around these poems. They are often deeply imagistic; the source of each reference would be impossible to trace; yet each poem leads inexorably to a potent and dramatic conclusion. I constructed music that functioned similarly—music that is billowing yet always headed towards some kind of denouement. As I sifted through the whole collection, I chose poems whose references overlapped to create connective tissue; some references are more specific than others, but almost all of them are concerned with companionship—whether deep friendship, or love.

The challenge of writing a work for voice and percussion quartet is obvious: four drummers are much louder than one voice, and I wanted the musicians in the quartet to have moments to shine as well. I constructed a series of interludes (two proper and one faux interlude), each focused on a single kind of idiophone—wood; metal; then, appropriately enough, skin.

Press:

“The work was commissioned by Third Coast as a companion piece for Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel, and premiered by them a year ago at Notre Dame. As with Ligeti’s cycle, Cerrone’s work is also cast in seven songs for mezzo and percussion quartet. Here the solo voice alternates with percussion movements, the singer and instrumentalists joining forces in the final two sections. (It’s too bad the G. C. Waldrep poems set by Cerrone were not printed in the program–especially when space was found for Weöres’ childish stanzas, with translations.)

Cerrone is clearly a gifted composer with an impressive individual voice as was made manifest in this Chicago premiere. One can immediately understand why Third Coast commissioned him. The percussion writing is resourceful yet economical throughout–as with the strummed guitar chords that open the first song with a bardic quality. While Cerrone’s instrumental scoring is striking in its effects, there is none of the see-what-I-can-do-with-a-cheese-grater excess that can pervade percussion quartet compositions.

More impressive still was the depth of the vocal writing, as fully realized by Calloway. There was a touching, plaintive quality to the searching line of “In My Dream.” And Calloway handled the soaring high climax of “My Companion and I” with expressive poise and technical aplomb. At its best, Cerrone’s vocal writing has a concentrated lyric beauty and conversational ease that recall Samuel Barber.” Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review