Music of Walter Winslow

Concertati Veneziani was composed in the summer of 1996. Though the
piece was not a commission, the title was chosen to commemorate the
Venetian Republic, which according to historic tradition lasted a
thousand years until it was extinguished by Napoleon in 1797. 1997
marks the bicentennial of this sorry event. The connection is
appropriate, since the piece is dedicated to Patricia Fortini Brown.
Central to her work as an art historian, the city remains a focal
point for both our lives.

The instrumentation, four violins, viola, and cello, is unusual for a
string sextet. It allows me to play off two violin soloists against a
string quartet group, as happens in the Finale, and allows for solo
treatment of the group of violins as well.

In Concertati Veneziani, I allowed myself a full range of thoughts
encompassing several hundred years of Western music. The risk in such
a project is losing one's personal musical style, but one I thought
worth taking, given that my style is well-formed, mature, and
evolving. Besides, considering the uncertainties of my health, it was
possible that this would be my last musical composition. I felt a
need to honor the musical tradition which has made my life rich beyond
measure. Thus the need to sum up, the need to speak in a somewhat
broader language.

Concertati Veneziani contains no attempt to imitate other
("historical") composers' styles, nor does it attempt to reconstruct
the musical language of any historical period ("Baroque", "Classical",
etc.), even in small snatches. It does make use of various
compositional devices, such as a kind of chorale variation in the
Adagio that ends the Finale, and structural outlines ("forms" would be
going too far) from the Renaissance to the present.
For example, the first movement could be diagrammed as Sonata-Allegro
with Introduction, but the harmonic language generally becomes less
stable throughout the movement, and true themes are not to be found.
All this occurs in a musical language that treats tonality (diatonic
and chromatic), modality, atonality and dodecaphony as if they were
all inhabitants of the same universe. However, the proportions used of
these pitch languages should not be taken as commentary on their
validity. With these last remarks I leave you to enjoy this adventure!

A Voice from Elysium (1995) was written for the New York Camerata. The
Latin text is an extensive inscription from an ancient Roman tomb. It
takes the form of a dialog between a young, recently deceased woman
and her husband, who is still living, crazed with grief. There is
also a third person, a traveler who happens by, reads the inscription,
and comments on it briefly. The traveler may represent posterity, or
the public in general. His appearance is a convention frequent in
inscriptions of this kind.

In A Voice from Elysium, the listener faces a semi-theatrical
situation (though there is no stage action) in which the thoughts and
feelings of the characters must be fleshed out and made clear in the
music. The desperate, self-destructive mood of Atimetus, the
husband, is underlined by the instrumentalists, who shout out a
punctuation of the singer's line. Atimetus's is the world of the
living, full of turmoil, and it is characterized by musical textures
which are densely chromatic and frequently harsh. Interestingly, the
world beyond the grave has music which is largely diatonic, and
keeps circling about one chord.
This music introduces the wife, Homonoea, who appears slowly out of
ethereal textures, her voice gradually coming into focus like an
other-worldly vision. The music reappears in the traveler's
commentary. After Atimetus threatens to kill himself, Homonoea rebukes
him, then sings a tender song which ends with her voice fading away
until it blends with the instruments and disappears. In the ascending
spirals of flute and piano, the listener may hear a fusion of the
chromatic (now reduced to filigree) and the diatonic, as the worlds of
light and shade join for a strange moment, seemingly frozen in time.

Mirror of Diana (1991) was inspired by a trip to Lago Nemi (also
called Nemus Dianae), a small round lake in an extinct volcano in the
Alban hills. It was written for David Keberle, a composer and
clarinetist who lived nearby in Rome, partly as thanks for making
possible my first visit to the lake. In ancient times, a priest of
Diana lived near a sacred grove and temple by the lake. Anyone who
wished to succeed him in his duty had to be a runaway slave who could
tear a branch off a certain tree. This act entitled him to challenge
the current priest to single combat. If he killed the incumbent, he
became the priest, until such time as he, too, was successfully
challenged. Such bloody-minded thoughts probably don't occur to the
lake's visitors, who see its peaceful, shining waters nestled in
beautiful wooded surroundings. There are small farms on the floor of
the crater where strawberries are grown, so many that there is a
strawberry festival each June. All in all, an isolated place of
striking beauty with overtones of mystery and violence.
~ Walter Winslow

Six Paripari [Tahitian District Songs] (1995) are contrapuntal chants
based upon the texts and inspired by the poetic devices of paripari,
an ancient genre of Tahitian choral music. In early times paripari
were sung by village groups during an annual festival in July and
later on were incorporated into Protestant church services.
According to a missionary dictionary a paripari is "a song about the
transactions and qualities of a place . . . the spray breaking on the
shore or a canoe." Each valley, waterfall or mountain had its own

A visitor to Tahiti in 1920 described a church service which featured
the paripari: "The music is quite indescribable. A group of men and
women form a himene, a trained choir. One woman will take up the main
musical theme. After a note or two the other women join in
counterpoint. Other parts are woven in by the men sitting in the pew
immediately behind. I do not recognize any of our intervals —the
dominant, tonic, or thirds. And there must be many quarter tones. It
is not at all like any Eastern or Arabic music which I know. Much
closer to our own ... Negro church music as I have heard it in the
South, where the thematic line is taken up, embroidered, played on by
other voices. In this Tahitian music the several parts seem to mingle,
rise and fall, interwine in such perfect and pulsing rhythm that I can
almost feel the building vibrating. It both stirs me and leaves me
restless and nervous. I think how certain sounds will make a dog howl.
I recall the vibration of the cicadas" song on a hot summer"s night. I
used to listen to them as a child and wonder whether two insects were
singing or a thousand. I would try to localize and separate the
sounds. I would become confused. It was as if the whole world were
shaking in a crescendo rhythm." [George Biddle, Tahitian Journal, St.
Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 1968]
~ Patricia Fortini Brown

Walter Winslow

Walter Winslow was an American composer whose life was cut short by
cancer at age 50. As the works on this disc display, his eloquent
music was influenced not just by the history of music gone before, but
also by legends and relics of European antiquities and by the beauty
and solitude of nature.

Born and raised in Salem, Oregon, Walter Winslow was drawn to music as
a young child, and began composing at the age of eight. At nineteen,
when he was attending Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music he
wrote the first of two string quartets. Graduating summa cum laude
with degrees in musical composition and Russian in 1970, he went on to
pursue graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley
with Edward Dugger, Andrew Imbrie, and Olly Wilson, and earned a Ph.D.
in music in 1975.

Winslow pursued a teaching career in musical composition during the
decades that followed, with positions at Berkeley, Oberlin, Reed
College and Columbia University and finally at the Lawrenceville
School in New Jersey where he was a teacher of piano from 1990 to
1997. Composer Mario Pelusi, his colleague at Lawrenceville, once
observed: "Taking a music lesson with Walter was often like looking
into the soul of music itself."

An accomplished pianist, Winslow played in recitals throughout his
life. Deeply committed to twentieth-century music, he won his first
piano competition in 1965 with Shostakovitch's Second Piano Concerto.
He had broad musical tastes, and the programs of his recitals read
like a short history of Western music, with works by Scarlatti, Bach,
Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Chopin, and Schubert, as well as his own
works and pieces by Schoenberg, Boulez and Mario Davidovsky.

Diagnosed with cancer in December 1994, Winslow was given about a year
and a half to live. He defied that initial bleak diagnosis by
continuing to write music, to perform and to teach for another three
years. He performed Bach's Goldberg Variations, one of the most
demanding pieces in the piano repertoire, in two recitals in the Fall
of 1997, just months before he died — an extraordinary testimony to
his strength, character and passion!