Jonathan Chapman Cook - Etude No. 1, "A Study in Self-Knowledge" (2013)
My first piano étude is on its surface and in its technical approach a tribute the great Polish pianist-composer of the 19th century, Frédéric Chopin. I have not been shy to borrow techniques, working them out in my own stylistic idiom, and have even included several shameless references to his own etudes, particularly Op. 10, No. 5 (“Black Key”), and Op. 10, No. 12 (“Revolutionary”). The work is composed in three sections (fast-slow-fast), and is rhythmically and harmonically inflected by various forms of popular music (also quite shamelessly), though not without excursions into dissonance, rhythmic irregularities, modal mixture, and other devices from the tool-belt of the contemporary classical composer. In this sense, I challenged myself in composing this piece to bring together the many musical influences of my own life and synthesize them into a single work, without a sense that these things don't belong together. On a deeper level, the work represents a spiritual journey, beginning in a place of beauty, confidence, and momentum, until eventually it spins out of control and finds itself lost and in a very dark place. After a time of searching through this dark "labyrinth," a low point is reached, wherein which some deep, inner power is stirred, which then rises, breaks out of the abyss, and takes flight toward the work's ultimate fulfillment.
June Night (2008) - for Mixed Chorus
Jonathan Chapman Cook - June Night
Performance by the Western Michigan University Chorale James Bass, conductor Recorded April 14th, 2009 Special thanks to Karl Schrock and Gordon Van Gent at Western Sound Studios for their "behind the scenes" help in making this recording possible.
Text by Sara Teasdale:
Oh Earth, you are too dear to-night, How can I sleep while all around Floats rainy fragrance and the far Deep voice of the ocean that talks to the ground?
Oh Earth, you gave me all I have, I love you, I love you,---oh what have I That I can give you in return--- Except my body after I die?
Notes on the Work
June Night for mixed chorus SATB was composed in Kalamazoo, Michigan in November of 2008. When I first thought of composing a new choral work, I had recently sung with the Western Michigan University Chorale in a setting of a poem by Sara Teasdale. I was compelled by this experience to explore her work and life-story further, and found myself deeply stirred by the unceasing eloquence of her poetry and the disturbing tragedy of her self-demise. As I explored her poetry, I did not "hunt" for a poem to exploit for my own selfish purposes (which is too often the case with young composers who are not inclined towards poetry but take it upon themselves to set it anyways), but rather approached the texts slowly and carefully, waiting for the right relationship to develop between myself and a given poem. When I read "June Night" for the first time, I was profoundly moved by the text and the ways in which I could relate to it based on my own experiences. It was not long before I knew that setting this poem would be a form of deep self-expression for me.
The first stanza describes an experience of restless wakefulness in the presence of the elements of nature on a summer night. I could relate to this based on my many experiences of camping on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, lying awake at night, awed by the great mystery of the cosmos and kept awake by the sounds and fragrances of nature. The second stanza describes the extensive and tragic love story between self and nature in as concise a form as I have ever found. It is my hope in presenting this work that these words of reverence, restlessness, mystery, love, and ecstacy may be vivified by my musical setting.
Three Songs on Ancient Japanese Poems (2007)
Jonathan Chapman Cook - Three Songs on Ancient Japanese Poems
CarrieAnne Winter, Soprano Jonathan Chapman Cook, Piano Live performance recorded on April 14th, 2007 in Dalton Recital Hall at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo MI.
Translations by Kenneth Rexroth:
I. From the beginning I knew meeting could only End in parting, yet I ignored the coming dawn And I gave myself to you.
Fujiwara no Teika (12th century)
II. In the mountain village The snow falls ceaselessly. The paths are obliterated. He would be truly devoted Who visited me today.
Taira no Kanemori (10th century)
III. In the dusk The road is hard to see. Wait 'till moonrise, So I can watch you go.
Oyakeme, a Girl of Buzen (8th Century, from the Manyoshu)
Note from the composer:
If a writer were to set his or her own text to music, it would probably turn out very differently than if another composer (especially if this composer lived hundreds of years later!) were to set the poem. A friend of mine recently suggested that one of the functions of setting a poem to music is to make the text more complex. A work of art takes on expanded dimensions when multiple artists treat the same material from different experiences, aesthetic tastes, and ideals. In my own treatment of these beautiful old poems from Japan, I sought to convey the emotional quality of the text from the inside of my own experience with the poems.
The first poem is both a song of love and a song of lost love, an expression of bliss and an expression of embitterment. In the second song, the piano at first plays the impressionistic role of falling, swirling snow in the mountains. The nature of snowfall as pure and beautiful, however, transforms with the narrators frustration with his inevitably unfulfilled desire for a visitor (likely a lover) into an expressionistic device of human frustration. The third song, I will allow to express itself. This poem is one of the most moving in all of the literature I have read. After over a hundred readings, I still feel shivers when I read it, and hold back the tears.
~Jonathan Chapman Cook
Beautiful You Are (2005)
Jonathan Chapman Cook - Beautiful You Are
From Patchen Songs (2005) CarrieAnne Winter, Soprano Jonathan Chapman Cook, Piano Live performance recorded on April 14th, 2007 in Dalton Recital Hall at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo MI.
Beautiful You Are
Cathedral evening, tinkle of candles On the frosted air Beautiful you are Beautiful your eyes, lips, hair
Ah still they come
Evenings like chalices Where little roofs and trees drink Until a rude hand Shatters them, one by one
O beautiful you are
My own Land of holiness, unblemished grace Springtime In this winter place O in the candles there More beautiful Than any legend's face
Your eyes, your hair
-Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972)
Note from the composer
In setting text, my attempt is not to "get out of the way" of the poetry and "set it well," but rather to internalize the poetry and to offer a personal reflection drawn from my own experiences with the text. Beautiful You Are is an exquisite love poem, and I found myself creating many sounds using the piano that I felt related to the images in the text. For instance, the solo piano introduction is marked "tinkle of candles on the frosted air" in the score.
~Jonathan Chapman Cook
Two Songs in Japanese (2006)
Jonathan Chapman Cook - Two Songs in Japanese
Carl Ratner, Baritone Jonathan Chapman Cook, Piano Recorded live on April 14th, 2007 in Dalton Recital Hall at Western Michigan University.
Texts by Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) Translations by Kenneth Rexroth:
At the beginning Of the night the whispering Snow fell, and now stars Fill this world below on the Disheveled hair about my face.
Left on the beach Full of water, A worn out boat Reflects the white sky Of early autumn.
Note from the composer
These two short but very challenging songs were composed in the summer of 2006. I do not speak Japanese myself, but did research on the poems apart from Rexroth's translations, so that I would know the exact meaning of each word. My approach to writing these songs was very similar to that of my other songs for solo voice and piano: to devise a sound-world from the inside of my own experiences in reading the poems. In the first song, the single word "disheveled" implies fatigue and difficulty, and this mood mingled with the imagery of the text defines the character of the song. The second is very slow and austere. In composing this song, the imagery was so vivid to me that I felt that too many notes or anything too loud would cause the water to ripple, and the pure reflection of sky would be disturbed.