Composing for here and now
The music of Douglas Johnson

A supplement to the Spring 2003 issue of the Trinity College Reporter

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Douglas Johnson, associate professor of music, studied in Vienna, Austria, and earned a Ph.D. in music at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked with composers Andrew Imbrie and Olly Wilson. In 1998, the Berlin Saxophone Quartet recorded his "four traveling musicians site on the platform waiting for their train as evening approaches" on the BIT Musik Label. His string quartet ‘il terzodecimo canto,’ had its premiere at Trinity in 1999, was performed in Boston by the New England String Ensemble Quartet in 2000, and was performed in Italy in 2001. Johnson's most recent composition, "Palabra, Obra y Corazon, cinco poemas de Medardo Arias-Satizábal," premiered at the Longy School of Music in March 2003. Selections from a new studio recording of three pieces, made last year by the original and commissioning performers of the works, may be heard below.

 Scherzo from " evening, in the shadow of the volcano they are dancing..." (1993)

Anthony de Bedts, piano, studio recording, July 2001

" evening, in the shadow of the volcano, they are dancing..." was commissioned by Anthony deBedts, a pianist residing in Vienna, Austria. It is a one-movement composition lasting some 12 minutes in all, premiered in recital at the Schubertsaal in the Konzerthaus in March 1993. The excerpt here comes about one third of the way through, after a turbulent opening section. It is part of a bouncy scherzo section, written in odd meters with quick changes, and calls for a virtuoso piano technique."

from "Songs of Time, of Love, of Wonder" (1995): The Love a Life can Show Below" (Emily Dickinson)

Elizabeth Anker, contralto; and Leslie Amper, piano; studio recording, October 2001

This excerpt is the final phrase of the third song of the cycle. It acts as the pivotal song, as the texts of the poems have been gradually drawing our attention away from the earth and up to the skies. The vocal line is simple at first, then opens into a broad melisma at the moment when the poem reveals what love has the power to accomplish. The accompaniment exploits the entire range of the piano, and the reverberation of the long last chord connects to the next song in the cycle, which starts out with images of a starry night. The cycle was commissioned by Ms. Elizabeth Anker, contralto.

excerpt from "Il terzodecimo canto" (1999)

The New England String Ensemble Quartet, studio recording, October, 2001

"Il terzodecimo canto" is a string quartet composed as a musical realization of, and also a musical commentary on, the 13th Canto of Dante's "Divine Comedy," the canto of the suicides. In this excerpt, the main character, Pier della Vigna, a statesman in the court of the emperor Frederick the Second, recounts the fate of the souls in this section of hell.

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Trinity College Reporter Spring 2003 Table of Contents



"My music seeks an immediate connection with listeners' emotions, with their bodies, and with their minds. I compose for 'now,' to communicate with people around me in the big 'here' that our world is. My compositions are based in the sound of acoustic instruments and the human voice. I seek to emphasize the emotional appeal that sounds have for the listeners, whatever their background or training. The expressive effect produced by familiar musical content in unexpected contexts gives my music its sustaining energy. My music is American in that it is an ongoing conversation between the past and the present, between 'old' sounds and 'new' sounds."