Eric Moe: Up & At 'Em













chamber & electroacoustic music








Eric Moe, composer of what the New York Times calls “music of winning exuberance,” has received numerous grants and awards for his work, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, commissions from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Fromm Foundation, Meet-the-Composer USA, and the Koussevitzky Foundation, fellowships from the Wellesley Composer's Conference and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Bellagio, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Millay Colony, the Ragdale Foundation, the Montana Artists Refuge, and the American Dance Festival. His Sonnets to Orpheus was featured on the Works & Process series at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2000, and is currently available on a Koch International Classics CD which also includes his Siren Songs. Compact disc recordings of his other works are available from Centaur (On the Tip of My Tongue: Chamber and Electroacoustic Music of Eric Moe) and CRI (Speculum Musicae: Music of Moe, Rosenzweig, Sanford); the Lions Gate Trio has recorded his We Happy Few on a recent Centaur release.


As a pianist and keyboard player, Moe has performed works by hundreds of composers, from Anthony Davis to Stefan Wolpe. His playing can be heard on the Koch, CRI, Mode, and AK/Coburg labels in the music of John Cage, Roger Zahab, Marc-Antonio Consoli, Mathew Rosenblum, and Felix Draeseke. He will be recording a CD of waltzes by American composers in a few months. A founding member of the San Francisco-based EARPLAY ensemble, he currently co-directs the Music on the Edge new music concert series in Pittsburgh.


Mr. Moe was educated at the University of California at Berkeley (M.A., Ph.D.) and at Princeton University (A.B.) He is currently Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh, where he directs the graduate program in composition and the department's electroacoustic music studio.


Up & At 'Em


Eric Moe is one of those exceptionally rare musicians who are equally skilled at writing and performing new art music. He has been commissioned by the finest new music groups, and has performed, recorded and toured with the best new music artists in the United States and Europe. His music is correspondingly virtuosic and kinetic. At the core of Moe's exquisite “maximal-minimalist” compositional technique is the ability to look at musical material as one would a complex crystal. Moe ingeniously takes a small amount of musical material and examines it from every possible angle and vantage point. He then breaks it down to its core atomic structure, tweaks it, recasts and re-contextualizes it, and then transforms it in the most unforeseen and startling ways that somehow always seem natural and inevitable. In the end, however, it is Moe's intricate web of rhythmic structuring that draws you in and never lets you go. Although trained and rooted in classical music, Moe's rhythmic and melodic conception draws as much from West Africa and Bud Powell as it does from Stravinsky and Chopin. It is this unique blending of influences, combined with passionate artistry and an impeccable compositional technique, that keeps bringing you back for yet another hearing, and leaves you eagerly waiting for the next offering.


Three of the works on this recording were written between 1995-98 (an extremely productive time for the composer) and two come from an earlier period, written between 1986-88. All of the pieces in this collection, however, share a common approach that is both intelligent and structurally satisfying, and at the same time grips and takes hold at a very basic primal level.


Composed in 1996 for the Washington Square Contemporary Music Society, Time Will Tell was mostly written at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, at a time of the year when the hermit thrushes were out in force and particularly vocal. Several key moments in the piece are marked by a version of their flutelike call.


Although the performing forces in Time Will Tell are modest (flute doubling piccolo, clarinet in A doubling bass clarinet, violin, viola, and piano), the overall sound of this work is extremely full and texturally rich. Whether in the registrally confined opening music or its expanded return at the end, Moe skillfully exploits the chosen space and consistently seeks out the most vibrant doubling opportunities available. From the opening spiky clarinet entrance and violin pizzicatos, rhythm is established as the primary force in this driving music. The pulse is ever-present, in the foreground, echoed in the background, and punctuating in the slow-changing repeated pedal tone underpinnings. Lyrical lines, however, provide the narrative element that delicately leads you through this work's textural folds and steady rhythmic terrain.


Fluid alternations between hard driving rhythmic material and more lyrical narrative passages define the main opposition and drama of the work. Melodic figures emerge gradually and are increasingly extended as the piece progresses until they dominate in the last section of the work. The turning point in this process is the intense bass clarinet and violin duo, culminating in a climax of repeated notes with the violin, piano and piccolo in their uppermost registers. This passage initiates the end of the piece. Even in the predominantly lyrical sections that follow, however, the repeated pedal tone figures remain, subtly pushing the music forward. When the registrally expanded opening music returns, the repeated notes, now rhythmically augmented, find their way into the deep bass voice revealing yet another facet of the musical crystal, and a fresh vantage point from which to view the work's basic material.


Moe's extremely wide expressive range and musical sensibility is aptly demonstrated in Mouth Music (1995), a gem of electro-acoustic sonic manipulation. The title is a “tongue and cheek” reference to a chapter of the same name in the popular 1970's self-help book The Joy of Sex in which oral sexual techniques are described in a frank manner. In Mouth Music, the raw material is completely produced by the human mouth. Not ordinary speech sounds, however, but instead the sounds we make in between the words. The beautifully inflected noises, inhalations, and laughter that form a sub-layer of verbal communication and signification are here transformed into complex musical phrases. Mouth Music goes through a gradual and systematic process away from the original source sounds presented in the beginning and focuses more and more on smaller bits of source material, now transformed through pitch manipulation, and recombined in the most striking ways. At the most magical moment in the piece, we are suddenly transported to an imaginary rain forest, complete with fabricated exotic birds and monkey calls, where voice sounds fade away and pure rhythm takes over — sighs, tongue clicks and laughter now have become skin drums and shakers.


The vocal material for this piece was contributed by friends and acquaintances of the composer, most of whom were together in residence at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. One gets the distinct sense that the process of collecting these sounds was as joyous as the composing of the work itself.


Blue Air was written for and dedicated to Moe's long time friend and respected colleague violinist and composer Roger Zahab. Moe and Zahab have performed and toured together and have also recorded the works of Cage and Zahab (Koch International Classics #3-7130-2H1).


Written in 1996, Blue Air has an enchanting neo-romantic tinge about it and is distinguished by its broad upward sweeping gestures. Largely lyrical, the lyricism is briefly interrupted by a pulsed rhythmic passage towards the end, initiated by sixteenth-note pizzicato figures in the violin. This passage sets up the elaborated and florid return of the initial theme and final rising gestures that resonate strongly with the quote by Elizabeth Barrett Browning from which the title and inspiration for this piece originated “As sings the lark when sucked up out of sight/In vortices of glory and blue air.”


Rhythm again takes precedence in The Lone Cello (1998), this time as a reference to the “William Tell Overture” by Gioacchino Rossini, perhaps better known as the theme song from the Lone Ranger television show. The opening material of this work, in fact, originally intended for a projected mini-drama based on the Lone Ranger, was reworked for solo cello and the piece continued in a tongue and cheek vein of lonely Western self-reliance. This is not a strict parody, however, but rather a highly virtuosic and deeply felt solo work.


The first movement, “Back in the Saddle,” is carefree and projects a sense of innocence and blind confidence. It moves through various tempos, from a gallop, to a trot, and then settling into a slower tempo, to allow for grazing, before returning to the original tempo at the end.


The middle movement, “The Lone Prairie,” finds our cowboy pausing to reflect around the campfire, alone, with only the stars above him. The middle section of this movement, marked “with utmost sensitivity,” captures the more introspective and private moments that isolation can bring.


The final movement, “Heading the Philistines Off at the Pass” returns to the rhythmic momentum and interrupted gestures of the opening movement, yet retains some of the reflective atmosphere generated in the middle movement. Our cowboy is back on the saddle once again, but changed, more aware and self-conscious now. As the movement progresses it gradually reclaims the assertiveness and bold confidence of the opening movement. Western expansion can now continue, with renewed spirit and fervor.


The intensity and virtuosity of The Lone Cello are well matched by the intensity and virtuosity of David Russell, for whom the piece was written.


A Whirling and a Wandering Fire is the oldest and perhaps the most classically constructed work in this collection. Dating from 1986, this highly virtuosic work was written for flutist Janet Kutulas and clarinetist Peter Jeshoff, both of whom are members of the San Francisco based ensemble EARPLAY, a group Moe co-founded in 1982. The title comes from an early poem of W.B. Yeats, “The Madness of King Goll”, and serves as a metaphor for the legendary king's madness (“but slowly…/In my most secret spirit grew/A whirling and a wandering fire.”)


The opening seventy-four measures of the work, which are immediately repeated, are rich with pitch and gestural nuance and serve as an “exposition.” The following “development” section takes a closer and more reflective look at the rhythmic, gestural, and pitch ideas presented in the opening; a single gesture from the first part now generates an entire passage. The quick runs previously associated with the winds are revisited and expanded, and a tremolo figure, originally heard in the flute at the end of the exposition, returns in a completely new guise as it generates the magically fluttering flute and clarinet tremolo section towards the middle, the heart of the piece. A return to the fast sixteenth-note patterning of the exposition gives way to a tuneful coda led by the bass clarinet.


Up & At 'Em (1988) was commissioned by the Serge Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Cogress. Scored for alto flute, bass clarinet, English horn, viola, and piano, the piece focuses on the darker hued woodwind and string instruments that generally take a back seat to their more popular counterparts.


The be-bop influenced opening gesture in the bass clarinet sets up the sixteenth-note pulse that drives most of this movement (titled “up”). The sixteenth-note pattern subtly modulates to faster paced pedal-tone triplets in the viola and piano. This four-against-three polyrhythmic argument continues, crystallizing at the movement's climax where the piano, fighting its way into the upper register, pounds out sixteenth-note rhythms against the alto flute and viola's lilting triplets. Triplet pedal-tones then reappear at a much faster pace, bouncing between the flute, viola and piano and then give way to slower eighths as the motor grinds to a halt.


The middle movement, “&,” featuring the English horn and viola (the piano sits out completely in this movement) provides a richly expressive foil to the outer movements. It begins with an eastern sounding drone in perfect fifths played by the viola that accompanies a beautifully haunting English horn line colored by the bass clarinet and alto flute. In the middle section the viola emerges as the primary voice; the English horn then resumes its starring role as the opening music and accompanying drone reappear transposed a whole step lower.


The final movement, “at 'em,” is propelled by the piano at the start and, in a scherzo-like fashion, alternates between punctuating, aggressive piano figures and ensemble passages that are mostly in rhythmic unison. The texture then thins out, bouncing lightly between duos, trios, and ensemble passages again in rhythmic unison; here the driving pulse is felt but not expressed directly. The movement culminates with a blazing extended unison passage that provides a fitting cap for the intense energy and electricity generated by this stunning seventeen-minute work.


— Mathew Rosenblum


















Time Will Tell (1996). Recorded 5/7/96 at Astoria Mastersound, Astoria NY. Theodore Mook, producer. Ben Rizzi, engineer, David Merrill, assistant engineer.


Blue Air (1996). Recorded 8/20/97 at Astoria Mastersound, Astoria NY. Theodore Mook, producer. David Merrill, engineer.


The Lone Cello (1998). Recorded 2/3/00 in The Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, SUNY Purchase, Purchase, NY. Judith Sherman, producer and engineer, Jennifer Munson, assistant engineer.


A Whirling and a Wandering Fire (1986). Recorded 7/2/97 at First Unitarian Church, Kensington, CA. Lolly Lewis, producer. Paul Stevens, engineer.




Up & At 'Em (1988). Recorded 1/15/96 at Astoria Mastersound, Astoria NY. Theodore Mook, producer. Ben Rizzi, engineer. David Merrill, assistant engineer.


Editing by Silas Brown (Time Will Tell, Blue Air, Up & At `Em), Lolly Lewis (A Whirling and a Wandering Fire), Judith Sherman (The Lone Cello). Mastered by Jeanne Velonis.


Executive producer: Howard Stokar.


Partial funding for this recording was provided by a grant from the Central Research and Development Fund, administered by the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Research.


Special thanks to Marcia Butler for her encouragement and assistance.


Cover photo and design: Barbara Weissberger


all works © Eric Moe, ASCAP






Eric Moe


Up & At 'Em


chamber and electroacoustic music


1 Time Will Tell (1996) [10:38]


Jayn Rosenfeld, flute/piccolo; Jean Kopperud, clarinet/bass clarinet; Rolf Schulte, violin; Lois Martin, viola; James Winn, piano;


William Purvis, conductor


2 Mouth Music (1995) [5:46]




3 Blue Air (1996) [7:38]


Roger Zahab, violin; Eric Moe, piano


The Lone Cello (1998)


4 I. Back in the Saddle [4:10]


5 II. The Lone Prairie [4:12]


6 III. Heading the Philistines Off at the Pass [4:15]


David Russell, cello


7 A Whirling and a Wandering Fire (1986) [9:37]


Janet Kutulas, flute; Peter Josheff, clarinet/bass clarinet,


Karen Rosenak, piano


David Russell, cello




Up & At 'Em (1988)


8 I. up [7:37]


9 II. & [3:19]


10 III. at 'em [5:16]


Rachel Rudich, alto flute; Marcia Butler,


English horn; Tim Smith, bass clarinet;


Lois Martin, viola; Eric Moe, piano;


J. Karla Lemon, conductor


Total Duration [62:30]


All works ©Eric Moe