The Forgotten Nocturne

Many of my listeners are familiar by now with my two piano nocturnes, both of which can be heard on my YouTube channel.  My first Nocturne for Piano was one of my earliest compositions, dating from 1983 and showing the clear influence of Chopin.  Much more recently, in 2017, I was commissioned to write a Nocturne No. 2 for Piano, which I subtitled “Passionate Melody of Life.”  As one might expect, the latter work is more sophisticated and reflects my well-developed personal style, yet one can hear echoes in it of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin as well as Chopin.  That second piano nocturne has proven to be perhaps the most popular of all my compositions.

But I also composed one other nocturne in 1986, written for woodwind quartet instead of piano, and rather different in style from the two piano nocturnes.  The piece lay abandoned and almost forgotten for many years, until the spring of 2016, when I discovered it while going through the old compositions I had collected in three-ring binders over the years.  The score was not in good shape. I had entered it on my ancient MacIntosh, using software that has long since gone defunct, and the notation was jumbled together in places.  The now-yellowed pages were printed on a dot-matrix printer and stapled back-to-back.  What passed for a title page was seemingly added  as an afterthought, hand-printed in pencil (!) and undated; I know the year only from a list of my compositions that I compiled a few years later.

I dimly remembered writing the piece over a feverish week or so.  It had never been performed; in fact, so far as I could determine, I had never even generated individual parts for it.  That was a very prolific period for me, so I think I must not have had the time then to try to line up performers for it.  But when I sat down at the piano and played some of it, I found it appealing and well worth reviving.  So I transcribed it into Finale.  As I did so, I also rewrote some passages that I judged a bit too dissonant and obscure for my current taste — places where my youthful imagination apparently got carried away.

The piece is about nine minutes in length, very Romantic, with an alluring melody, engaging counterpoint, and suggestions of soft jazz harmony in places.  I believe it is the only one of my significant works that does not include a piano part.  Maybe that was another reason why I had never tried to get it performed:  It takes a serious act of faith for me to turn my work over entirely to other performers and just sit back and listen.

In September of 2016, members of the Paradise Valley (AZ) Chamber Music Collective sat down to play through that Nocturne for Woodwind Quartet for the first time.  Leslie Lewis (flute), Jenny Wheeler (oboe), David McConaughey (clarinet), and Kristilyn Woods (bassoon) combined their refined musical talents to bring a luscious sound to the piece.  To my delight, the piece sounded very much as I already heard it in my imagination.  After a couple more rehearsals, they presented its premiere performance at the PVCMC’s fall concert on October 15, 2016.  Thus a work conceived 30 years previously — and then nearly forgotten — finally came to fruition. 🙂

On December 4 (almost 2 years ago), the four performers reassembled to produce this definitive recording of the work:

Alternatively, you can follow along with the score in this video:

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