Liner notes from the Albany label CD (TROY 956):
Edges shares its title with paintings by the American Abstractionists Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
and Philip Guston (1913-1980). The Gottlieb and Guston paintings are housed at the University of Iowa
Museum of Art, and face one another on opposing walls in a space dominated by Jackson Pollock's
"Mural" (1943). The information is relevant for it is provided by Dahn himself, who declares
that his Edges is "not strictly based on either of these paintings, and yet many of the
musical ideas for the work came to me as I would sit and contemplate these fine works of art."
Edges is for large ensemble comprising winds (flute, E–flat,
B–flat, and bass clarinets, bassoon), brass (French horn, trumpet, trombone), two percussionists
plus harp and piano, and strings (one performer per part.) An engaging aspect of Dahn’s piece
is that he treats the sonic properties of the ensemble in a manner analogous to the fashioning of the
visual domain of the Abstractionist paintings he cites. In each of the two mediums it is satisfying to consider the
composite effect—drawing focus on the objects as wholes; and yet to do so without intensely
contemplating the many intricate details that constitute the complete work is to misapprehend what stands
at the heart of such projects. In the case of the composition, we are carefully led through its physical
space where in a sense the aural equivalent of differing colors, brushstrokes, textures, and densities
are constantly in a state of flux.
Edges is divisible into two principal portions roughly equal
in duration. And yet while clearly demarcated, this "edge" is but one of many encountered over the course of
the composition. In fact, each of the two principal portions of the work comprises four subsections that are
asymmetrical in terms of their overall lengths
Subsection one opens sotto voce—at a pianissimo whisper.
The sparsely orchestrated beginning draws upon select low–range instruments whose entries are staggered and
are as diminutive as a single clipped pitch. The texture is slow to build, but eventually a composite
rhythm of sixteenth notes emerges; and as more and more of the orchestral forces join in the overall
dynamic level increases to forte. Attention, however, is never diverted from the flow of each
individual line, even if ultimately there are a great many such lines to track. In part, this remarkable
effect is achieved via the careful delineation of what stands as the principal melody—that which
Schoenberg and others would label the Hauptstimme. The point is this: contrary to initial
impressions the florid passages are in reality Nebenstimmen (secondary voices), which taken
collectively represent something of a frieze, standing as backdrop for the deliberate, if somewhat
lugubrious, motion of the Hauptstimme whose protracted gestures pass from voice to voice
(B–flat clarinet, to bassoon, to French horn in the first three entries alone).
Similar procedures obtain throughout much of the composition, though no
two subsections are identical in their specific approach to melody and accompaniment. Indeed, the
approach is at times more and at other times less angular. The deeper one moves into the composition,
however, the more it tends to be that the individual lines increase in density such that instrumental
groups (winds, brass, percussion, strings) come to trade off with one another.
In all, the unitary approach to process serves as the connective thread
that runs through Edges, binding together the assorted tableaux. Dahn has thus provided
a skillfully fragmented work, on that continuously ratchets up the level of tension in a manner
approaching non-diegetic film music: music that might supply the background to a chase scene in a
thriller or some similar genre.
Notes by Gregory Marion,
The University of Saskatchewan
Edges received multiple performances by the University of Iowa's renowned Center for
New Music during their spring tour in 2006. Edges was also recorded by the Center and is
available on an Albany label disc commemorating the ensemble's fortieth anniversary (TROY956).
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