"That Blood's Too Red" &
"A-Walkin' All Alone" -
Big Thicket rhapsodies
for cello and piano. Composed for Daniel Saenz and Brendan Kinsella.
"That Blood's Too Red" performed by Daniel Saenz and Brendan Kinsella at SoundScape Festival, Italy.
"A-Walkin' All Alone" recorded by David Russell and Geoffrey Burleson at the Cleveland Composers Recording Institute.
Program Notes for "Big Thicket Rhapsodies"
This work sets two ballads collected in my native East Texas, by William A Owens in 1941. The main verses of the first ballad are as follows:
"How come that blood on your shirtsleeve? My son, come tell to me." "It is the blood of the old gray mare that plowed the fields for me."
"That blood's too red for that, my son. Son, come and tell it to me."
"It is the blood of my own brother dear that plowed by the side of me."
The brother's explanation of the murder is cryptic: "I killed him for cutting yonders bush that might have made a tree." The work opens with a fairly straightforward presentation of the tune then delves into continuous transformation, eventually even going beyond the tragic nature of the original ballad.
The second ballad is a very unique, modal version of "Red River Shore". (I almost hesitate to mention this, as the tune here is so unlike any versions that share this title.) The meanderings of the lone wanderer are expressed by the cello: the piano seems to paint the landscape.
It might immediately strike the listener as odd that the cello should at times so realistically sing the ballad tune (often in a high register that suggests a nasal country tenor), while the piano part employs such an apparently different harmonic language. The answer, of course, is that the piano part is not unrelated, as repeated hearings will bear out: the piano music constantly reworks the ballad tune, albeit in a more abstract way than the cello.
But to give a vivid way of thinking about this relationship, I would say that if the cello line is a backwoods character, then the piano part is something like the authorial voice in Faulkner, giving even the most backwoods character universal transcendence and highlighting his psychological depth.
I don't think in such theoretical terms while writing, though. For me, it's even simpler: the cello is the vox humana and the piano represents something like nature surrounding the man (those East Texas tangled thickets like gothic cathedrals with dark creeks winding through them, as well as those occasional stretches of pasture in which tones sail away toward the horizon and die).