Charles Shere: Ces désirs du quatuor


any four melody instruments

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score: acrylic on canvas; individual parts available by request

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My first attempt at an indeterminate score turned out to be one of the most successful. Ces Désirs was composed at the request of the composer Robert Hughes, who was giving didactic concerts to young audiences, and wanted a piece to demonstrate whatever musical form I preferred.
"No form at all," I said, and made this quartet by stretching a rather large canvas, priming it white, painting musical staffs on it both vertically and horizontally in black acrylic, and then painting on notes and in some cases text, using either India ink or colored inks.
The piece is influenced by Eric Satie's Musique d’ameublement (one reason it is titled in French): I like to think of it as a kind of aural screen through which other things may be heard.
The musical material is partly original, partly quoted, for by that time I had studied both Roman Haubenstock-Ramati's Credentials and, more closely, Douglas Leedy's Octet: Quaderno Rossiniano. Quoted material included the opening measure of the Tristan prelude and a song by Hugo Wolf (as I recall).
In performance the painting is laid flat on a table, and the four musicians sit around it, each playing only music on staves horizontal to his point of view. The music may be played either left to right or right to left, and in any clef or transposition. Occasional noteheads in color are meant to be given an unusual tone-quality. Musicians go from one staff to another, leaving silences between at their discretion, and ending only at a double-bar -- of which four are thoughtfully provided.
I prefer the score to be played by dissimilar instruments of varied ranges, or by a pair of dissimilar duets. The premiere was  in November 1965, with Robert Hughes, bassoon; Nelson Green, Wagner tuba; Stuart Dempster, alto trombone; and someone whom I forget playing trumpet. There have been many subsequent performances, all running to about eight minutes long, most seeming to be in d minor.
A sound recording is available at Vibedeck.
Ces désirs was soon promoted to be a part of other scores, first in from Calls and Singing, where it functions as a sort of prelude; later in the opera The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.  Small-format copies of the score have been made to facilitate such performances: e-mail for information.
The original painting of Ces désirs is owned by my friends Claire and Kendall Allphin, and had to be repainted a few years ago as the original colored inks had badly faded.

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rev. 9/15/00