for two harps
Duration: ca. 15'
Instrumentation: two harps
Commissioned by the American Harp Society for Duo Scorpio: Kathryn Andrews, harp and Kristi Shade, harp
World Premiere: Duo Scorpio, 50th Anniversary and 40th National Conference of the American Harp Society, July 2, 2012.
Publisher: Bill Holab Music
Gruesome creatures have always fascinated me, so when Duo Scorpio asked me if I would be interested in writing them a new piece, and their only request was that I incorporate the scorpion as a theme, I was happy to oblige.
The first movement, Trinidad Scorpion, is inspired by a fiery red pepper called the Trinidad Scorpion "Butch T", currently the hottest pepper in the world. It measures a blistering 1,463,700 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). (A typical jalapeno pepper measures around 5,000 SHU, while a habanero pepper measures up to 350,000 SHU.) The tempo is appropriately marked con fuoco, and the contrapuntal middle section is subtly infused with Calypso rhythms.
Promenade à deux is the title of the second movement, borrowed from a colorful description of the scorpion's complex courting and mating ritual. This begins when the male and female locate and identify each other using a mixture of pheromones and vibrational communication. The courtship starts with the male grasping the female's pedipalps with his own; the pair then perform a "dance" called the promenade à deux. The courtship ritual can involve several other behaviours such as juddering and a cheliceral kiss, in which the male's claw-like mouthparts grasp the female's. In some cases, the male will inject her with a small amount of venom, perhaps as a means of pacifying her. Once mating is complete, they separate. The male generally retreats quickly, most likely to avoid being cannibalised by the female, although sexual cannibalism is infrequent with scorpions. Scorpions glow fluorescent under black lights, so I imagine the scorpions basking in a fluorescent afterglow after completing their courtship.
The third movement, The Tale of Orion, is inspired by an ancient Greek myth. According to legend, Orion boasted to goddess Artemis and her mother, Leto, that he would kill every animal on earth. Although Artemis was known to be a hunter herself, she offered protection to all creatures. Artemis and her mother sent a scorpion to deal with Orion. The pair battled and the scorpion killed Orion. The contest was apparently lively enough to catch Zeus's attention, so he raised the scorpion to heaven and afterwards, at the request of Artemis, did the same for Orion. This served as a reminder for mortals to curb their excessive pride. A second version describes Orion and Artemis growing fond of each other. Learning of this development, Apollo, Artemis's twin brother, grew angry and sent a scorpion to attack Orion. After Orion was killed, Artemis asked Zeus to put Orion up in the sky. So every winter Orion hunts in the sky, but every summer he flees as the constellation of the scorpion approaches.
Scorpion Tales was commissioned by harpists Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade of Duo Scorpio through a grant from the American Harp Society.