for piano quartetviolin, viola, cello, and piano (2000)
|Commission||Commissioned for the Ames Piano Quartet by the Ames Town & Gown Chamber Music Association on the occasion of its 50th anniversary|
Mr. Hoiby has explained that the air by James Joyce upon which he based his Rhapsody came to him through his acquaintance with John Francis Byrne, James Joyce's friend and schoolmate, who had been the model for the character Cranley in Joyce's novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Byren's autobiography relates the story of Joyce's efforts in 1902 to compose music for James Clarence Mangan's beautiful poem "Dark Rosaleen" and Byrne's own improvisation of a piano accompaniment for Joyce's tenor rendition of the song. In 1958, Byrne recalled for Lee Hoiby the tune to which Joyce had sung the song, and Hoiby transcribed it. Forty years later, coming upon the transcription he had made, Mr. Hoiby re-read Byrne's account of the origin of Joyce's air, which he states he "found rather haunting, as I did the melody itself, playing it over after all those years." He relates that he first thought of the Joyce "air" as the theme for a set of variations for the piano quartet he had been commissioned to compose.
In the course of composing this music between April and July, 2000, Mr. Hoiby found that Joyce's folksong-like melody was less well suited to the variation form than to (as he has written) "an extended rhapsodic work which is almost entirely monothematic." He adds: "The Joyce theme appears in many guises... often modified... It is nearly always present in one way or another. There are relatively few passages that are not derived from the theme but that are, instead, 'new material' that connects one section with another. The term 'rhapsody' seemed appropriate to the freewheeling structure of my piece. The word also suggests the bardic intensity of feeling... As the music unfolded, I found myself thinking of earlier times, of legends, and of those Dublin boys... Thoughts of earlier times are appropriate to the poem 'Dark Rosaleen', which is in fact a rendering in modern English of an old Irish poem, 'Roisin Dubh'." Of all his translations from Gaelic and his other poems, it is 'Dark Rosaleen' that has kept the name of James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849) alive. One literary critic declared that Mangan's free translation "ranks with the great lyrics of the world."
(From notes by Karl E. Gwiasda)