when we remembered (2014)

for soprano, mezzo-soprano, flute (piccolo), clarinet (bass clarinet), soprano saxophone (alto saxophone), trumpet, cello, double bass, guitar, and piano

when we remembered is an exploration of instrumental colors and textures, governed by the elemental sounds of vocal music—consonants and vowels. It was inspired by Renaissance composer G. P. da Palestrina’s setting of the words “when we remembered you” (in Latin, dum recordaremur tui) in his motet Super Flumina Babylonis. That piece holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first piece I ever conducted, as an undergraduate in choral conducting class. when we remembered gradually assembles the complete Latin text of Psalm 137:1 by adding one or two new sounds in each section of the piece. Thus, the first section has no text, the second has only the vowels u and i, the third has the word tui, the fourth adds the r sound, and so on. Each time, the instruments anticipate and react to the vocalists’ introduction of new vowel or consonant sounds by imitating those sounds through a wide variety of extended techniques, thus demanding great flexibility of the performers. This process builds fascinatingly complex textures which swell and subside on a large scale according to the contour of Palestrina’s original melody. At the end of the piece, the two vocalists present a fleeting, unaltered quote of Palestrina’s music, trailing off in midsentence as the instruments seek to complete their thought, like mute creatures trying to construct the sound of words out of abstract little pieces. –Nathan Cornelius

Super flumina Babylonis By the waters of Babylon,
Illic sedimus et flevimus There we sat down and wept
Dum recordaremur tui When we remembered you.
–Psalm 136(137):1

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