Paul Moravec: Autumn Song
Paul Moravec (1957-) is an award-winning American composer who is based in New York. After studying composition at Harvard University and then subsequently taking up an MA and a Doctorate at Columbia University, Moravec became a professional composer and pedagogue. Moravec is currently a Professor of Music at Adelphi University, a composition teacher at Mannes School of Music, as well as a composer.
For his work Tempest Fantasy, Morvec received the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2004. Naturally, this increased the composer’s popularity both nationally and internationally, with him being appointed several composition residencies. Moravec has also received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship and the Charles Ives Prize in American composition.
Moravec’s style has been placed in a group called ‘new tonalists’, chiefly by critic Terry Teachout. He describes this group as “neither embarassed, nor paralysed by tradition. Rather, they accept it as a given.” This infers that most of Moravec’s works are tonal and neo-romantic in style. Moravec has his own thoughts on this labelling however:
“The term ‘new tonalist’ is a little outdated simply because of the passage of time. It had more relevance a few decades ago, when late modernism was dying or even dead. For my work. I regard the term only as a point of departure before considering each composition on a case-by-case basis. As a composer, I try always to make beautiful things, and I use whatever techniques and materials are useful for the particular composition at hand.
Some of those materials are atonal or nontonal, but the overall harmonic context of my music derives from the tonal tradition, which after all is the lingua franca of Western music – essentially, Monteverdi to the Beatles and beyond!”
Moravec’s style is said to have been influenced by composers such as Claude Debussy, Paul Hindemith, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams. However, Moravec’s music certainly has its own identity and character, which can be seen through his enchanting and atmospheric writing.
Autumn Song was composed in 2004, and is a gentle flute solo with piano accompaniment. Opening with a breathy solo flute, the ambiguous atmosphere is set from the beginning. There is a modal feel to this opening, which only adds to the atmosphere that Moravec is aiming to create.
The piano then enters with a short interlude before the two unite to play opposing themes. The piano reflects the flute’s opening passage, whilst the flute moves on to develop the melody. The two sometimes come together for brief unison phrases, which threads together the melodies.
The dynamic begins to rise as the flute shoots up into its upper register, which is where the first climax unfolds. The opening material is then used in fragments as the flute stays in its upper register for more time. Both instruments begin to utilise big intervallic leaps as the melodies jump up and down.
The phrasing of the two instruments is one of the highlights of the piece. The slow movement which brings them together but just as quickly sends them apart is part of the charm of this work. The phrasing of each section as the instruments move together emphasise the fragility and beauty of the music.
Autumn Song is a peaceful work for flute and piano which sees Moravec utilise phrasing and his melodic writing to create a work that, although quiet, speaks volumes.