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Songs of Remembrance (2016) for French Horn and Piano
By James M. Stephenson
Commissioned by and written for Gail Williams
with additional support from John Dutton, Jaron Kloap, Carrie Rexroat, Daren Robbins, Alexander Shuhan, and Melody Velleuer.
World premiere by Gail Williams at IHS (International Horn Symposium) in Ithaca on June 16, 7:30 pm. Accompanied by Kay Kim.
I am very delighted to share these three songs, all lyrical in nature, that represent subject matter very personal both to Gail Williams, and to me.
The first is a recounting of Gail’s dog, Reilly, that she cherished very much (as was most evident in her public notifications of pictures and stories). The music depicts a melodic line that is always joined in-step by the accompaniment (Reilly). At various times, that accompaniment veers off the path and does its own thing, but always returns to the heel of its master. The “walk” eventually heads to the mountains, a favorite place of Gail’s, where she would often take out her horn and fill the mountain space with her majestic horn calls. An excited “barking” follows, portraying a most excited Reilly running free amidst the natural beauty. Finally, we settle back into the previous music, now a bit slower. Eventually, and sadly, the accompanying figures lag just a little behind, as old age unavoidably settles in.
The second movement was written just after my own mother passed (April 23, 2016). Knowing that Gail’s mother had passed recently as well, it seemed appropriate to deal with it musically.
In no way can I expect the music to match the personalities, strength, and love so evident in both of these women. My music came out both with pain and love, because it was so recent and so real for me.
The third movement is based on a photo Gail took of “sunrise on the farm”. Gail’s photography is what inspired all of these works in the first place: pictures of her mom, her dog, and finally, this sunrise (cover photo). I thought of a sunrise both literally and metaphorically. Literally, the music is always growing, rising up, and gathering life as it moves forward. Metaphorically, I thought of a young Gail on the farm; where no one would/could know what a huge impact she would eventually have in music and in the world of French horn. And so the ending presents a master musician, reminiscent about her youth, playing music that is both reflective and proud all at once.
Jim Stephenson; June 3, 2016