Janus

Samuel Jones

Rental
Publisher: Carl Fischer Music
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Janus received its first performance on September 16, 1998 by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz, conducting. It was written for the opening week of Benaroya Hall, the Seattle Symphony?s new concert hall, and is dedicated to Maestro Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony. It has immediately begun to attract the attention of other conductors and has already received numerous additional performances around the country.

Janus was the Roman god of beginnings, for whom the first month of each new year is named. We are all familiar with the double-visaged icon of his head, surveying the past and the future simultaneously. To the Romans he was a gatekeeper, charged with the responsibility of guarding what has gone before as well as what is to come. It thus seemed an apt image for the opening of a new hall, since for that occasion I wanted to write a work which would first cast an appreciative and somewhat nostalgic look to the past, but then would turn its attention forward to express the exhilaration of a major new beginning in the life of an orchestra and its city.

And to do this I was drawn immediately to one of my earliest works, a piece for small orchestra called In Retrospect, which I composed some 40 years ago. I realized it would express perfectly the first part of what I wished to convey; what I needed to do now was to write a companion piece which would take the same materials of the older work and turn them on their head, so to speak, so that what was nostalgic or even sad in the look backward would be transformed into sheer exuberance, confidence, excitement for the future. The result was In Prospect, with the two movements now gathered together under the collective title Janus.

In Retrospect was composed in 1958-59 in Rochester, New York, while I was completing my doctorate at the Eastman School of Music. It was given its first reading by the Eastman Philharmonia under the direction of Howard Hanson. Since then, it has been performed many times throughout the country. It is a short, nostalgic piece which expresses a feeling of looking back, of sadness at closing a set of doors in one?s life, and, simultaneously, a feeling of apprehension, the fear of the unknown and what lies ahead. I was 23 years old when these emotions sprang up and expressed themselves in this music. Now, over 40 years later, I find the piece still expresses what one feels at major junctures in one?s life.
Cast in three part (ABA) form, this movement is scored for small orchestra (winds in pairs plus one trombone, timpani, bells, and strings).

In Prospect was composed in Seattle during the winter and spring of 1998. It is cast in modified rondo form, and to the instrumentation of its companion piece it adds harp and a few more percussion instruments.

This movement opens with a reference in the low flutes to a little transitional figure in the first movement. As this figure develops itself and moves to the work?s basic tonal center (G), the harp outlines the figure?s underlying structure, which yields four notes destined to become central to the movement: B, E, D, A. In the time-honored fashion practiced by many composers who have gone before?notably Bach and Schumann?I chose these notes to correspond to musical syllables found in the name Benaroya.

At this point the movement proper is ushered in, and one senses an unmistakable feeling of optimism. This is achieved by the confident stride of the four-note main motive as well as by the use of the Lydian mode, with its raised fourth scale step, which provides not the usual one but two leading tones and a strong sense of inevitability. The musical materials of In Retrospect had largely been built from the octatonic scale (which has a decided minor flavor, though its structure is quite different from the classic minor scale). Now we will hear many of the earlier turns of phrase revisited and transformed as they express themselves in their new tonal surroundings.

As soon as the ostinato framework is laid, the main theme of the movement announces itself, boldly proclaimed by the entire violin section, performing as one. Its many upward sweeps are balanced by a characteristic dotted-rhythmic figure.

After an allusion to the opening music of In Retrospect, a new theme arises, yearning and lyrical. It moves us through a series of plaintive sequences leading to a restatement of the opening principal theme, now presented in turn by the four woodwind soloists, exhibiting characteristic variants which take each soloist to the very top of the instrument?s range.

Then comes the middle section of the piece, which I think of as the Sunbreak section. The most distinctive aspect of Seattle?s weather is not its rain (for which the city is undeservedly notorious) but its sunbreaks, those magical, unexpected openings in the clouds which bathe everything in brilliance and splendor. For this section I quote the chorale tune so beautifully harmonized by Bach, Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light, which goes on with the words, ?and usher in the morning.? I used this tune also in my second symphony (which is a choral symphony) to set the words of John Stone, the poet, ?and as each morning proves the world, so music proves the morning.? This chorale tune, then, has for me strong overtones of the greatness and importance of music, feelings which are especially appropriate for dedicating a new hall, or, indeed, for any concert.

The music of the main section returns, with the Benaroya chimes symbolically calling to audiences for years to come and with a final brief allusion in the brass to the sunbreak chorale. And at the very end, as the brasses hold the last chord, the strings release the sound with glistening harmonics, as if to send the music out into the community as long as we can possibly hear it, summoning, ever ringing.

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Additional Information

Commission Commmissioned for the opening week of Benaroya Hall.
Composition Date 1998
Duration 00:18:00
Orchestration 2(dbl. Picc.) 2(dbl.E.H.) 2 2 - 2 2 1 0; Timp. Perc. Hp. Str.
Premiere September 16th, 1998. Seattle Symphony, conducted by Gerard Schwarz; Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA

Details

In Prospect
In Retrospect