for sinfonietta

Written: 2000-01
Duration: 7'
Instrumentation:[dbl lo-alrm clock] – 1.1[dbl marac] 0.1.0 – perc - pf[dbl ampd Jack in The Box, ratch]–str 2[1/dbl med-alrm clock.2]1.1[dbl hi-alrm clock] 1.
(marim, hi-crot, bd, 4T.T., 2bongo, 3hi-roto tom, med-woodblk, med-szl cym, 2sus cym med-sm, vib, ratch)

sinfonietta: flute, oboe, B-flat clarinet, bassoon (doubling low-pitched alarm clock), F horn (doubling 2 maracas), C trumpet (doubling 2 maracas), trombone, percussion (4 1/3 octave marimba, crotales [high octave], concert bass drum, 4 tom toms, 2 bongos, 3 high-pitched roto toms [6", 8", 10"], medium wood block, medium sizzle cymbal, 2 suspended cymbals [medium and small], vibraphone [with working motor]), piano (doubling amplified Jack in The Box toy, ratchet), 2 violins (vln. 1 doubling medium-pitched alarm clock), viola, violoncello (doubling high-pitched alarm clock, contrabass.
Note: Alarm Clocks and Jack in The Box may be rented with the score and parts.
Written for the Cornell Festival Chamber Orchestra
World Premiere: Cornell Festival Chamber Orchestra, Mark Davis Scatterday, conductor, Cornell University, Barnes Hall, Ithaca, NY, USA, April 14, 2001.
Selected Additional Performances: Duquesne University Contemporary Ensemble
PublisherBill Holab Music

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Program Note

As a child, I remember being very afraid of my closet at night. I was sure that scary things were hiding in the back corner and that my closet was really a nighttime portal to a world of demons and monsters. A bracing, horrible dream I had one night as an adult reminded me of these childhood fears and hastened my writing this piece.

What kinds of sounds do demons and monsters make? What would they sound like crammed together in a gargantuan, pitch black, closet at night? I envisioned screaming, chaos, and violent infighting between the creatures. Sometimes these hellish monsters fight amongst themselves, as I would imagine they would do in a sort of morbid, eternal "monster hell," but once in a blue moon they burst out of the closet and start flying around the bedroom in a chaotic free-for-all, cackling and laughing and spitting and drooling, banging into walls and furniture like a bunch of loose, demonic bats.

Technically, this work is a vehicle for exploring a variety of exotic sound possibilities within a large chamber group. I imagine monsters of different shapes and sizes, similar to characters you might find in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (the right wings of The Hay Wain and the Garden of Delights triptychs would be good examples), but much more abstract, cubist and multi-shaped, such as the images found in the cubist works by Pablo Picasso (i.e. the Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler painting or the Head of a Woman sculpture). If you took Picasso’s cubist people and "morphed" them with Bosch’s un-earthly creatures, or filtered Bosch’s creatures through a cubist filter and airbrushed the final images with hell, then that would be my goal.

Other images in particular provided inspiration, such as the famous painting The Nightmare by the Swiss-English artist Henry Fuseli. In this work, an ugly demon is seated on the dreamer’s chest and a frightening white horse with glowing eyes is in the background. My work is further inspired by the diverse collage works—digital or not—being created by contemporary visual artists.

Press Quotes

...a longform horror theme and variations, veering between cartoonish drollery and moments of sheer terror...
— New York Music Daily
I am most taken with Closet Full of Demons... the weirdness creates so many specific distinct ideas, and a kind of succinct, vivid expression I like very much.
— John Harbison, MacArthur Fellow, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music