RTC-52: 1981 Shadow Pieces for Flute, Bassoon, Violin, Cello and Piano

Commission: Canada Council
Length: 16 min.
Completion: 22 February 1981, Winnipeg
Premiere: 1981-05-11, Aurora Musicale, Winnipeg. Patricia Spencer (flute), Vincent Ellin (bassoon), Patricia Nadler (violin), Gary Stucka (cello), Diana McIntosh (piano)

  • 1981-11-16, Music Inter Alia – Diana McIntosh
  • 1985-05-06, Aurora Musicale, Winnipeg: Patricia Spencer, flute, Patricia Nedler, piano, Mark Summer, cello, Annele Ens Robertson, piano, George Zukermann, bassoon
  • 1991-10-07, GROUNDSWELL, Winnipeg

Publication: CMC

  1. Patricia Spencer, flute, Vincent Ellin, bassoon, Patricia Nadler, violin, Carolyn Tolson- Riccardo, cello, Diana McIntosh, piano. RCI Anthology: Robert Turner ACM 15, 1983
  2. Ovation Volume 4, CBC Records, PSCD 2029-4

Robert Turner writes:

“Joseph Cornell is the American artist who made over 300 shadow boxes, collages and films from the early 1930s until his death in 1972. He lived almost his entire creative life in and around New York City and is famous primarily for his small box constructions enclosed behind glass in which he created his own universe by arranging a variety of objects, such as cut-outs of art reproductions, cordial glasses, clay pipes and corks. Cornell’s major themes include aviaries, constellations, museums, palaces, pharmacies, hotels, habitats, and sandboxes, as well as homages to ballet, literature, art history, and movie stars. His aesthetic may be said to derive from surrealist art and French symbolist poetry but he belongs to no one school and is a complete independent. His work, now in many major galleries and in private collections throughout the world, has to be seen to appreciate its haunting and nostalgic quality.
The Shadow Pieces I (I hope to do a second set for orchestra) are an attempt to capture the eclectic temper of Cornell’s art, and the titles of the five pieces are generic ones which the artist used for a number of his works. The first (Medici Slot Machine) alternates and contrasts canonic passages for wind and string instruments with a musical representation of a spiral (or spring) for piano (a coming symbol in Cornell’s work); the second (Penny Arcade) is mechanical and toylike in nature; the third (Night Skies) is rhythmically free, employing “space” and “time” notation, and features string harmonics; the fourth (Soap Bubble Set) is a Scherzo with two Trios; and the last (Homage to the Romantic Ballet) is dance-like, chiefly in waltz rhythm. Two musical quotations are introduced in the third and fifth movements, respectively, Schubert’s song “Nacht und Träume” and Schumann’s “Valse Noble” from his suite “Carnival” for piano (Cornell’s favourite composer and work). These are stated as “quotes”, pure and simple, and not as material for development, although they are somewhat modified. Otherwise, all five movements are built on one 12-tone row. The scoring for the instrumental group – flute, bassoon, violin, cello and piano – is often as if for a miniature orchestra, rather than for a chamber ensemble of solo players. The composition was commissioned by Aurora Musicale on a grant from the Canada Council and written during the winter of 1980-81.”

Manishen, James. Review: “Groundswell out to broaden new music base,” Winnipeg Free Press, 9 October 1991, C30.

Owen Underhill (cond.) – “Winnipeg Composer Robert Turner’s Shadow Pieces date from 1981 and contain a forward-moving drama and atmosphere which interact in fine balance. Scored for a quintet of winds and strings, the five-movement work is based on paintings by New York artist Joseph Cornell. Turner’s music spoke with clear purpose and generous doses of wit, particularly I the “Times Square bustle of Penny Arcade” and the clever “Homage to the Romantic Ballet,” with its offbeat, rhythmically-displaced nod to Schumann.”