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Masquerade (Three Tableaux After Beardsley)
Commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts. World Premiere: October 14, 1986. L'Ensemble des Deux Mondes, [Paris], William Fitzpatrick, conductor. American Premiere: April 10, 1989. Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, David Stock, conductor. Also presented as a dance work by Linda Kohl and Dancers, New York City.
From the composer:
When I first looked at the three drawings of the Victorian artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) which form the basis for Masquerade, the intense drama and movement contained within them suggested to me that each was the first frame of a film-the mere beginning of a story to be played out. The piece began to unfold as a dramatic sequence in which the three pictures are connected as successive episodes in a dream. On studying the drawings further I started to imagine a strange music reflecting Beardsley's nightmare world of ghoulish costumed beings and subconscious human fears. Masquerade became an allegory for the moral decay and destruction of humanity--a collective vision seen through one person's journey through a nightmare.
The first picture, The Dream, (actually, Beardsley's rendering of a scene from Voltaire's Candide), represents the ideal picture of life. It serves to bring the listener into a dreamlike state, and sets the stage for the events which follow.
The second picture, Death of Pierrot depicts the murder of the clown and represents the death of laughter and the destruction of the artist. Pierrot is represented by the clarinet. At the outset of the movement he is awakened from sleep by the murderers. The remainder of the movement characterizes Pierrot's attempts to escape his attackers, either by entertaining them, distracting them, or, finally, by fleeing from them. At the close of the movement the ghoulish murderers overtake and kill Pierrot.
The third picture, The Scarlet Pastorale draws upon two ideas: the implication of blood in "scarlet," and the notion of complacency in "pastorale." This becomes, then, the triumphant dance of the murderers. During this episode, the chaotic impulse takes over and the characters, as well as the music, degenerate into an orgy of decadence. After everything "falls apart," the music slowly begins to piece itself together again. The work ends with a motivic fragment from the beginning, recalling The Dream, which allows the listener to awake from the scenario of the piece.
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