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composer's note:

Four Studies on Darkness was inspired by my visit to a recent exhibit of the late works of Mark Rothko. Unlike his more well-known works from the 1950s in bright oranges and pinks, the late works took on a much darker tone. Throughout each of the movements, I have made use of gradual processes of various sizes—slow to fast, sparse to dense, one timbre to another, and so on—to imitate the experience of noticing the layers of detail in a Rothko piece during several minutes of viewing.

The first movement is based on the painting Black, Red and Black, a bright, blood-red band on a black background. This movement presents the stark contrast between the red, represented by the sound of a deep bell in E-flat, and the dissonant, cluster-tone-like black. The second movement, Rust, Blacks on Plum, is a study on the four predominant colors in Rothko’s painting. Four strands of harmony, each allotted to distinct groups of instruments, interact in counterpoint with one another to form new composite harmonies, just as colors might interact on the canvas in their complementarity. The third movement, Green Divided by Blue, inspired by one of the few bright paintings during Rothko’s late period, is accordingly full of bright sonorities.

The fourth movement,Black on Grey, is written after Rothko’s last work, which came shortly before his own death. To reflect the contradictory effects of this painting, I have used the sound of a large tam-tam as its basis.

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