1. “ ‘Time is Fleeting’ …” [in memoriam Joe White]
2. “Musical impromptus are no such thing; no one ever improvises,” pronounces Gaudí, savoring a sangria at Els Quatre Gats, the future site of Picasso’s first solo exhibition, one hundred years before the Archbishop of Barcelona names him patron saint of his profession [irreverent impromptu]
3. “¡Viva la maquina escribir!” [cante chico]
Small World was commissioned by and is dedicated to marimbist Nancy Zeltsman and clarinetist Larry Passin. The first movement was composed in memory of my father, and I took what I believed to be a malapropian phrase of his for the title. (My older siblings later informed me that it was a town politician’s malapropism, which my father found amusing, and thus he appropriated it, knowing it was not correct—hence the double quotation marks. In our household, the phrase “time is fleecing…” [or, more correctly, “‘time is fleecing’…”] was usually followed by a directive such as, “and it’s time for a clean-up campaign.”) “‘Time is Fleecing’…” uses a chant from the Codex Calixtinus, from the Santiago de Compostela repertory, as a cantus firmus. A reflection on the last few weeks of my father’s life, the work evokes the altered senses of time I perceived as I witnessed his leave-taking.
The second movement concocts an event that almost certainly never took place: the famed architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) visiting Barcelona’s Els Quatre Gats cabaret, a seedbed of Catalonian artistic activity from 1897 to 1903. (Gaudí is said to be the only significant artist to have missed Picasso’s first solo exhibition, which took place at Els Quatre Gats in 1901.) The reverent, abstemious Gaudí likely eschewed the vulgar hedonism of the cabaret scene, and yet his extravagant constructions seem to share something of its unbridled inventiveness. (In my own hazy recollections of a too-brief trip to Barcelona, Gaudí’s flights of fancy are inextricably linked with another thing I remember best about Barcelona: sangria.) The musical argument begins with a vain, nutty, long-winded clarinet cadenza, infected by my memories of inane clarinet études, which responds to some of the paradoxes I observe in the life and work of Gaudí, the reactionary modernist, the pious decadent, the vulgar aesthete, the humble egotist. “Gaudí” incorporates a Catalonian tune, suggested throughout and played explicitly and “diegetically” at the end.
The third movement considers the music of southern Spain without quoting it exactly, though there is a reference to an early twentieth-century French evocation of Andalusian music. In fact, it was inspired partly by working with Nancy, who often performs standing on a rug, to dampen the sound of her enthusiastically tapping feet. It seemed appropriate to exploit that tendency of hers here. The title “¡Viva la maquina escribir!” (“Long live the typewriter!”) is said to be an encouragement called out by listeners as they observe flamenco dancers in action. Long live the typewriter indeed.
The piece was recorded by Larry Passin and Nancy Zeltsman on the CD of White’s Music Apocryphal Stories on Albany Records.
-- Program notes by Barbara White
In addition to being a prolific composer of chamber music, Barbara White creates theatrical performances incorporating words, movement, video, and onstage ceremony. She is also an idiosyncratic clarinetist, exploring the wonders of the sounding breath through a kinship with the solo Zen repertoire of the Japanese bamboo flute. Current composing/performing projects include duos with shakuhachi performer Riley Lee and with Cape Breton guitarist Charles MacDonald, with whom she forms the duo Fork & Spoon.
Honors and awards include a Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, three awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship. White’s fourth solo CD, a recording of the opera Weakness with a libretto by the composer, was released on Albany Records in 2013. In 1998, she joined the faculty of the Princeton University Music Department, where she is now Professor.