Charles Shere: Dates

1972

soprano, clarinetist, violist, percussionist

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score: ten pages, available from Frog Peak Music

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In 1972 the clarinetist Tom Rose asked me to write a piece for him to play in an important graduate recital. The piece was to feature not only the usual mezzosoprano clarinet in A, but also bass clarinet and the soprano clarinet in Eb. (Mozart's basset clarinet was not available in those days, and Tom rejected my plea for including also the alto clarinet.)
I wanted to write something that could also be used to celebrate the Stein centennial year 1974, and chose to accompany "Dates" with percussion and violin-viola, taking advantage of the presence of two colleagues on the Mills College faculty, the violinist Nathan Rubin and the late pecussionist Jack van der Wyk. I meant to display not only the technical and expressive proficiency of the players but also their flexibility in negotiating a number of different kinds of notational style. The soprano is meant to take a place equal to the three instrumentalists, not superior to them, and should remain seated during long rests -- even, perhaps, while singing.
Tom and the others first performed the piece at Mills in 1972, with a student soprano whose name I no longer recall. It was included in a marvelous concert produced at 1750 Arch Street on Stein's hundredth birthday, Feb. 3, 1974, with Judith Nelson singing. Subsequent performances have been by the English soprano Jane Manning and the American mezzo Marcia Gronewald.
The piece is generally quiet and reflective and runs about eighteen minutes long, but since the second of its three movements is in mobile form the duration can vary a minute or two either way, as the instrumentalists choose to play more or fewer of their phrases. From that movement:
 


from Dates (1972), ┬ęCharles Shere.    
Score available from Frog Peak Music; sound recording available from Vibedeck.

Further comments:

Gertrude Stein wrote her poem-cycle "Dates" in 1914; it was first published in Bee Time Vine and Other Pieces (1953: Yale University Press).
The poems are in the manner of her "cubist" period, most familiarly represented in her book Tender Buttons. Virgil Thomson referred to these poems as expressing a "preoccupation with verbal concealment." Some of the words in these poems had private significance for Stein, Alice Toklas, and other intimate friends of the time; other phrases may be chance remarks overheard while the writer was composing the poems, or may allude to social visits or the work of various colleagues.
At the premiere of Dates I was sitting in front of the composer Robert Ashley, then also on faculty at Mills College. Toward the end of the piece I heard him whisper to the person sitting next to him: "This is just the kind of music I can't stand." Or words to that effect. But I've always liked this piece, which marks some kind of turning point in my output.
The Nocturne at the beginning of the third movement of Dates stayed with me and re-emerged six years later as a recurring refrain in the last movement of Tongues. This happens, probably the influence of Charles Ives, who often quoted from a familiar repertory -- vernacular music, or his own -- in his scores. In Tongues the instrumentation of the passage changes a little bit at each occurence. It's like passages in a familiar landscape, seen under varied atmospheric conditions.
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http://www.shere.org ┬ęCharles Shere 2000
rev. 9/15/00