music


Highlights (for newcomers)

Journeys for piano and string orchestra

The 1812 Overture on the piano

Jeremiah Robs a Bank (2013), film by Michael Rose

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Original Music

A mostly-complete list of original music for which no recording yet exists may be found on the Scores page.

Homeric Rhapsody

Journeys

Haikus nos. 4 and 3; Les Nuis de Paris no. 53

The Legend of Icy Hollow Theme

Jeremiah Robs a Bank

Homeric Rhapsody

Freely after Books I-IV, IX, XVI, XVIII-XX, XXII and XXIV of the Iliad
for Violin and Orchestra (or Violin and Piano)

"Studio" recording made May 13th-14th, 2015 at the Cogut Center for the Humanities, Pembroke Hall, Brown University
Maya Ramchandran, violin
Benjamin Nacar, piano

For a few years I have been wanting to write a violin virtuoso piece based on the Iliad, and I am happy to now see the project through. One can't do justice to all twenty-four books of the Iliad in the space of half an hour, so instead I made a selection of key scenes that present a reasonable abridgement of the Iliad, and wrote music to those scenes. The Rhapsody is in one long movement, but there are three large subdivisions, separated by the shortest of pauses, that roughly correspond to the three movements of a traditional violin concerto.

Part I (0:00) begins with the Iliad's opening invocation in the form of a short violin solo, and proceeds from there to Achilles' bitterness at the wrong done him by King Agamemnon; the celestial palace on Mt. Olympus full of squabbling gods and goddesses; the dream that Zeus sends to Agamemnon (represented by an extended violin solo) tricking him into thinking that victory is at hand; the advance of the Greek and Trojan armies; the truce as Menelaus and Paris duel for Helen; and the intervention of the immortals that forces the war to continue.

Part II (9:14) includes Agamemnon rallying the Greeks; the great battle and the advance of the Trojans; nightfall and the embassy to Achilles when Odysseus, Ajax and Phoenix plead with him to return and fight, to no avail; the continuation of the battle; Achilles' comrade Patroclus disguising himself in Achilles' armor and pushing the Trojans back; the unmasking of Patroclus and his death at the hands of the Trojan prince Hector; Achilles' grief and resolve to avenge Patroclus' death; and the god Hephaestus at work making Achilles a new shield and armor (represented by another extended violin solo).

Part III (20:35) covers the rejoicing of the Greeks as Achilles returns to war; the gods and goddesses taking their seats to watch the final showdown; the retreat of the Trojans; Achilles chasing Hector three times around the walls of Troy; the final duel and Hector's death at the hands of Achilles; Achilles venting his fury by dragging Hector's body around from his chariot; the nighttime visit of King Priam, which leads Achilles to relent and allow Priam to bear away Hector's body; and the funeral given Hector by the Trojans.

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Journeys

A Tale of High Adventure for Piano and String Orchestra

Full score also available

"Studio" recording made Mar. 15th, 2014 at First Unitarian Church of Providence
Cast:
Benjamin Nacar, piano
EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks, Matthew Slesinski, violin I
Andrew Nixon, Eimi Satoh, violin II
Grace Stokan, Ryan Roelke, viola
Kathryn Schulz, Shawn Tsutsui, cello
Anant Gharpure, bass

In 2012 I attended a production of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow where, restricted by the size of a particular theater's pit, the music director had reduced the orchestra to a string quartet plus bass, a pianist, and a percussionist, giving all the woodwind and brass parts to the pianist. The combination worked surprisingly well, and I began wondering just how far one could go with the limited instrumentation of piano plus strings, using the piano alternately as the featured solo instrument and as an orchestral instrument substituting for all the non-string instruments.

The result of my compositional experiments, Journeys, is simultaneously a suite, a piano concerto, a symphonic poem, a ballet without the dancers, and a film score without the visuals. The twenty "chapters," some of which follow each other without a pause, correspond roughly to the three movements of a traditional piano concerto in the following groupings: Chapters 1-7, first movement; Chapters 8-15, second movement; Chapters 16-20, third movement.

Journeys is not based on any one story. Adventure stories have always resonated strongly with me. Among my favorites are Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Lucian's A True Story, Apuleius's The Golden Ass, and Voltaire's Candide. Probably, though, my greatest source of inspiration for the present composition was all the fun I had playing Dungeons and Dragons while in college. The chapter titles in Journeys serve to give the bare outline of a story, and the specifics are left to the imagination of the audience.

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Haikus nos. 4 and 3; Les Nuits de Paris no. 53

Recorded live at the RISD Museum on Mar. 16th, 2014
Matthew Slesinski, violin; Shawn Tsutsui, cello; Benjamin Nacar, piano

I was inspired to write the cycle of Haikus after sightreading Anton Webern's Three Pieces for piano and cello. I am not a fan of absolute atonality, but I was still impressed by how sparsely written and how pithy Webern's Pieces were. My own Haikus are miniature pieces written in varying degrees of tonality or quasi-tonality, but no less compact than Webern's Pieces. Haiku no. 3 takes twenty-two seconds, and Haiku no. 4 isn't much longer. Following the example of traditional haiku, they are built on the juxtaposition of two separate musical ideas and can be thought of as consisting of three short segments, the middle one being slightly longer than the other two.

The still-unfinished suite Les Nuits de Paris, written in a style vaguely similar to the Haikus, is based on a collection of short stories of the same name by Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806). The original Les Nuits de Paris, subtitled The Nocturnal Spectator, provides a fascinating and arguably accurate street-level portrait of Parisian life in the years right before and through the beginning of the French Revolution. In the translation introduced by Jacques Barzun, story no. 53 relates how the narrator, walking late at night wearing his high-collared cloak, is mistaken for a monk by a drunken man. "This is a nice hour for a man of the cloth! Where is he coming from at such an hour? From a visit to his mistresses!" The drunk pursues him, threatening to beat him up. The narrator, looking for a way to avoid violence, notices a prostitute standing in a doorway. Remembering stories of prostitutes luring monks into their rooms and then having them arrested, he makes a convenient entry, thereby eluding his pursuer. He is also "curious to confirm the rumor" himself. The drunk follows him as far as the doorway but remains outside, cursing with all his might and yelling for the police. The narrator is led by the prostitute into a room where he is left alone for while; eventually he discovers he has been locked in. At dawn the police commissioner arrives, who fantastically happens to be a friend of the narrator. The commissioner wants to have the prostitute arrested but the narrator convinces him that she was "only doing her duty" and everything is resolved happily.

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The Legend of Icy Hollow Theme

mp3 file also available

Illustrations by Benjamin Nacar

The title "The Legend of Icy Hollow" and its protagonists, with the exception of Krag the Penguin, are not my creation. They originated from a freelance role-playing game, in the manner of Dungeons and Dragons, that my friends and I play sometimes. One day I suddenly decided we needed a musical theme, so I wrote one, and a year later returned to it and drew a sequence of cartoons to match.

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