Donald Erb: Chamber Music









The Watchman Fantasy


Aura II


Five Red Hot Duets


String Quartet No. 2






Donald Erb, described by Nicolas Slonimsky in the Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians as a "significant American composer," was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1927. His orchestral music has been played by literally every major orchestra in the United States and many in Europe, Asia and Australia as well. He has had commissions from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra and others. One work The Seventh Trumpet has been performed by over fifty orchestras in the United States and abroad. Among his orchestral works are ten concertos which have been premiered by such artists as Lynn Harrell, Richard Stoltzman, Stuart Dempster and the brass section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.




Erb studied at Kent State University, The Cleveland Institute of Music (where he now teaches), and Indiana University. He has received grants and fellowships from the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and Ford Foundations and has served as composer in residence with the Dallas and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras. Having recently completed a quarter as resident composer at The American Academy in Rome, he looks forward to the premiere of a violin concerto which he wrote for Miriam Fried during his residency. Among the many organizations which have honored him are the International Rostrum of Composers, the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among his credits is the article on Orchestration in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Erb's compositions are widely performed and well received. They are available on numerous recordings.




The Watchman Fantasy




The Watchman Fantasy was written under a National Endowment for the Arts Consortium Commission for violinists James Buswell, Ronald Copes and Gregory Fulkerson. Completed in July, 1988, The Watchman Fantasy is scored for violin, amplified piano with digital delay, and synthesizer. Both keyboard instruments are played by one performer.




The title of the work is taken from the hymn Watchman, Tell Us of the Night. The hymn is not the one used by Ives but another which also has the title Come Ye Thankful People Come.




The work is over twenty minutes in length and has a free structure which is in keeping with its title.




The final section of The Watchman Fantasy is a chorale prelude based on the hymn. The piece requires a great deal of virtuosity and artistic flexibility.




Aura II




Aura II, a fantasy for cellist and people in the audience, was completed in the summer of 1982 in Spencer, West Virginia. Mr. Harrell and I had collaborated before, most notably on a concerto for him which was the result of his having been awarded a Ford Foundation young artists commission. The concerto was premiered by the Rochester Philharmonic in 1976 with David Zinman conducting and has just been recorded by Leonard Slatkin and The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. This work is for solo cello with a small group of people playing in the audience. The soloist also operates a cassette player. Included in the instruments played by the individuals in the audience are harmonicas, stem galsses and telephone bells suspended on strings. True to its title, the form of the work is free. It is virtuosic in character and calls for the cellist to sing as well as play. The pitch material is presented in a straightforward manner and is not hard to follow.




Five Red Hot Duets for Two Contrabassoons (1990)




In March of 1989, I spent a month at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center on Lake Como in Northern Italy. My stated purpose on being there was to compose a large work for wind ensemble. Normally, when I leave home to compose in an unfamiliar environment, I try to take a piece in progress as it is easier to get to work. This time I didn't and the result for awhile was total blockage.




I had promised my friends Gregg Henegar and Bradford Buckley to someday write contrabassoon duets. I decided to take some of my time to see if that project would work, and the result was the Five Red Hot Duets.




The duets are five character pieces for two instruments that rarely appear on chamber music concerts. I can say wtih a fair degree of certainty that these duets may be the best duets ever written for two contrabassoons in fact they may be the only duets for this combination.




String Quartet No. 2




This string quartet, commissioned by the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation for the Cavani Quartet, is my first venture into the medium in thirty-two years. The reasons for this are many. I have spent a lot of time writing commissioned orchestral music and concertos. Another reason is pure fear. Some of the most wonderful music in the western world has been written for the medium and that is intimidating. It is hard to find artistic elbow room in such a medium, explored so well by so many wonderful talents, but the Cavani Quartet members were persuasive and so here it is.




The work is in four sections (slow, fast, slow, fast) played without pause. The initial col legno figure is heard throughout the piece. The col legno by the way is played with chopsticks which serve two purposes. It saves a string player from nicking a valuable bow and it also produces a much "neater" sound which frankly is not quite the same as a col legno. This "col legno" occurs rather frequently in the first section. The opening also features a melody played by the first violin which is used in different guises throughout the quartet.




I have been intrigued for some time with the way sung sounds and played sounds mix. Since string players can sing and play simultaneously I have employed this as well in the opening section. The second movement begins with a col legno cello solo which turns into a scherzo-like section featuring the col legno sound and the opening figure of the first movement.




The third section begins wtih a variation of the opening violin melody once again played by the first violin. It is basically a development of this melody, with, in the middle of the movement, a cadenza for the first violin. The last movement presents all the previous materials in an energetic finale. It begins with a half-step figure and gradually cranks up to a robust conclusion.




Donald Erb




Gregory Fulkerson has received international acclaim as a recitalist, soloist with orchestra, and chamber musician. Since becoming the first soloist to win the International American Music Competition (1980) for Violin, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and Carnegie Hall, Mr. Fulkerson has continued to be a major exponent of American music for the violin. He is a member of the artist faculty at the Oberlin Conservatory.




Canadian pianist Audrey Andrist, a graduate of the Juilliard School, has appeared in concert with violinist Gregory Fulkerson as well as with her husband, violinist James Stern. She has performed at the Focus Festival in Lincoln Center and in numerous other concerts and festivals in other parts of America. She has recently won prizes in a number of piano competitions including the Eckhardt-Granatté Competition in Canada.




Lynn Harrell is one of the foremost cellists of our time. A recipient of many prestigious awards and prizes including the first Avery Fisher Award, Mr. Harrell is also highly regarded as a teacher. He holds the Piatigorsky chair at the University of Southern California and is the newly named Principal of the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has made over thirty recordings for London Records and EMI.




Bradford Buckley has been a member of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra for twenty-six years. During that time he has played a great deal of American music. Mr. Buckley has also been chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts, and lecturer for the Double Reed Society.




Gregg Henegar was recently named contrabassoonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra after many years with the Houston Symphony. In 1984 the Houston Symphony commissioned Mr. Erb's Concerto for Contrabassoon and Orchestra which Mr. Henegar premiered in 1985 and subsequently recorded with the London Philharmonic for Leonarda Records.




Winner of the 1989 Walter W. Naumburg Chamber Music Award, the Cavani Quartet has garnered an impressive list of awards and prizes, including first prize at the Cleveland Quartet and Carmel Competitions. The Cavani has served as Quartet-in-Residence at the University of California at Riverside and is currently Quartet-in-Residence at The Cleveland Institute of Music.




Aura II




Stephanie Erb · Arthur Hanket · Ben Hong · Lem Jay Ignacio · Katinka Kleijn · Martin Osten · Ming Pak · Kathryn Price · Alicia Rowe · Katharine Setterfield · Thomas Tsai






The Watchman Fantasy (producers: Donald Erb, Gregory Fulkerson · engineer: Tom Knab) String Quartet No. 2 (producer: Marcia Ferritto · engineer: Tom Knab) · Aura II (producer: Stephen Hartke · engineer: Casey Stone)




Cover art: Donald Erb by Julie A. Bubalo




String Quartet was funded by Chamber Music America's New Works program, funded by Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund.










The Watchman Fantasy (20:33)


Gregory Fulkerson, violin · Audrey Andrist, piano & synthesizer




Aura II (9:40)


Lynn Harrell, cello




Five Red Hot Duets for Two Contrabassoons


I (1:33)


II (3:38)


III (3:10)


IV (3:52)


IV (2:51)


Bradford Buckley & Gregg Henegar, contrabassoons




Time = 15:18




String Quartet No. 2 (23:08)


Cavani Quartet


Annie Fullard, violin · Susan Waterbury, violin


Erika Eckert, viola · Merry Peckham, cello




Total Time = 68:54