Lament of the Sea Kings (1982)
duration ca. 10:00
Eight amplified contrabasses and echo device
In the late 70's, while still an undergraduate, I wrote a set of short, evocative pieces for two double bassists and two percussionists called Three Haiku, and submitted it to the composition competition for the International Society of Bassists. Although I did not win, my piece somehow came to the attention of Bert Turetzky, who wrote me with a veiled invitation to compose a piece for his "high-powered ensemble of 12-14 bassists." I'd read his book, The Contemporary Contrabass, and was delighted to have the opportunity, whether real or not, to compose a work for his group. I'd also been fascinated by the songs of humpback whales and the sound worlds of George Crumb and Krysztof Penderecki. I thought I'd like to put all that together along with the use of a device that my brother, a rock guitarist, had recently bought--the echoplex. The result is a ten-minute tone poem that moves through a series of metric modulations from a deeply mystical, colorful opening introducing a chromatic motive, through a more harmonic passage developing the motive first melodically, then contrapuntally, to a harrowing climax where a rhythmic version of the motive is battered out and eventually phase-shifted. The work ends with a return to the opening idea and a final, mournfully descending melodic line. I completed the work in the summer before beginning my graduate study at the University of Pennsylvania, where without any apparent irony whatsoever, at my first composition lesson, George Rochberg, the great American Neo-Romantic, said to me of it, "You know, Chris, they don't write music like this anymore."
Lament of the Sea Kings was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival Bass Master Class by students of the Aspen Music Festival conducted by Christopher Coleman, on August 1, 1983.