Chiaroscuro

PROGRAM NOTES
“Chiaroscuro” literally means “light and shadow” in Italian, and is often used to describe paintings that use extreme contrasts of dark and light. Artists like Caravaggio, da Vinci, and Rembrandt famously employ chiaroscuro techniques, and I am completely captivated by the way these extremes coexist in art to create dramatic beauty. As always, life imitates art in the way these extremes coexist. Ignoring pain in favor of pleasure is a fool’s errand, just as depicting light without shadow results in blankness. “Any glow that I pursue brings an umbral partner too.” Throughout this piece, I explore the extremes of dynamic as you’d expect in a piece about contrast. At the same time, not every “light” is consonant, nor is every “shadow” dissonant, just as life’s binaries are not clean cut. In the middle of the piece, the sections of the choir each have repeating patterns, like gears in machine that might produce a glow from a lightbulb. I imagine a dramatic lighting display accompanying the varying textures made by the choir and the bowed crotales, and by the end of Chiaroscuro I hope to find a bit more peace with both the light and the shadow.

Voicing:

SATB (divisi) with opt. bowed crotales

 

Duration:

6 minutes

 

Commissioner:

Commissioned by Cantorum Chamber Choir, artistic director Steve Durtschi

Text 

by Jennifer Lucy Cook

 

Ah, chiaroscuro

 

A filament, a wire
The element of fire
A filament, a wire

 

Hope in sorrow

One is never without the other
Though I favor the brightest color
One is never without the other:
Light and shadow
Light and shadow
Light and shadow

 

A votive lit with muttered prayer
Charged the current in the air
Electric candles overhead
Lightbulb moment: living dead

 

A filament, a wire
The element of fire
A filament, a wire
Almost holy

 

Near the luminous gilded halo
There’s a gloom at the edges waiting
Near the luminous gilded halo
Shadows follow

 

Minimal, but not alone
A double-sided monochrome
Any glow that I pursue
Brings an umbral partner, too
And though my muscles know the fight,
I cannot sever dark from light

 

And though my muscles know the fight,
I cannot sever dark from light
I cannot sever dark from light

 

Ah, chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro