Chamber Concerto VI: Mr. Jefferson for solo violin and chamber
orchestra is built on references to, and associations with, the figure of
Thomas Jefferson. It is dedicated to violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved, who
first stimulated my interest in Jefferson’s musical connections. In composing
the work, I focused on four specific links to Jefferson.
(a) The formal structure, in five connected movements, is
meant to reflect Jeffersonian architecture: the symmetrical balancing of components
on either side of a central structure. Thus the middle (third) movement is
balanced on either side, with movements I-V,
and II-IV, of identical durations.
(b) The piece makes use of motives based on musical spellings,
using the letters A through G plus the German H and S and solfege syllables.
The most prominent motive of this type is based on the pitches THOMAS EFFERSO.
There are musical spellings of many other names as well – including that of
violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved.
(c) There are many quoted fragments of 18th century music
associated with 7 Jefferson – works that he kept in his music library, works
that he performed, and/or works which were composed by a person very close to him.
(d) The five movements – all connected -- provide programmatic commentaries on
this remarkable historic figure. In order, the movements are:
(1) The Inventor, which celebrates TJ’s remarkable skill at
designing machines. Among the many objects he either created or improved upon: the
swivel chair, plow, automatic writing polygraph, clock, dumbwaiter and sundial.
This movement introduces the Jefferson-spelling motive, reference to Bach
Inventions, and a four-note motive—the motive of “Uranus the Magician” in
Holst’s The Planets.
(2) The Violin, honoring TJ’s passion for music and his
devotion to the violin. He owned several instruments (one of which was a 17th
century Amati), practiced three hours a day as a young man, and maintained a large
library of scores including works by Vivaldi, Corelli, Handel and Haydn. This
movement places the violin soloist in sharp focus; near its close, the soloist
plays fragments from works which were in Jefferson’s library.
(3) Garden, reflecting Jefferson’s devotion to horticulture.
In typical Enlightenment fashion, he was insatiably curious about the workings of
nature, and cultivated a great variety of fruits, vegetables, trees and flowers
at Monticello. The music becomes “flowery,” with special emphasis on ornaments,
embellishments and tiny motives that undergo a growth process.
(4) The Letter, which
refers to TJ’s correspondence with Mariah Cosway, the great love of his later life.
Cosway was an accomplished painter,
flutist and composer – and (unfortunately) married. Here the concerto becomes
more overtly Romantic in style – chromatic, orchestrally lush and curiously Wagnerian.
Fragments of Cosway’s own music for flute and harpsichord surface within the
(5) The Portrait,
last of the five connected movements, stands for Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of
Jefferson which hangs in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. James Bowdoin III commissioned
the Jefferson portrait and then willed it to the newly founded College which
bore his family name. This movement serves as the Recapitulation of all that
has gone before –culminating in an emphatic return of Holst’s four-note “magician”
figure, a fitting epitaph for a remarkable man. ---Elliott Schwartz
Version of this work for reduced forces (1 percussion, no celesta) prepared by the composers for the 2012 performance at Symphony Space.
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