The Music of Robert Nelson
Robert Nelson's music has captivated audiences, critics, and peers for over four decades.
May 10, 2024
NEW ALBUM! Musical Stories

I concluded early on that I lacked the knack for composing “absolute” music. When approached by someone to compose a piece, I would start considering all the myriad possibilities and go immediately into brain lock. And so I gravitated toward the theater. I had always been interested in opera for its wonderful combination of music and drama, and I have been fortunate enough to have composed five of them. Working in the theater has had a profound effect on my musical style; every piece of mine has some sense of drama, and so the title Musical Stories is quite appropriate.

Dramatic music can evoke both mood and sense of place. The most obvious example of this on the CD is Odysseus. Aaron Lington has over the years performed by Concertino for Baritone Saxophone a number of times and has even recorded the piano version. I wanted very much to compose a piece for him and his accompanist/wife Victoria that would show off their virtuosity and also demonstrate the often underestimated lyrical potential of the baritone sax. At the same time, I wanted something dramatic that would allow me to explore the full range of expressive possibilities of the saxophone and the piano. I hit upon the idea of basing the piece on Homer’s Odyssey. This provided me a narrative framework and some highly contrasting places and events. The titles of the various movements provide a guide to the listener, who is invited to peruse again Homer’s epic.

The vocal pieces rely greatly on the lyrics, of course. The poetry for Birds in this Woman was written by Elizbeth Woody, a native-American who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Her poems are quite evocative, and I wanted to capture both the sense of place and the spirit of the indigenous people of the Northwest. Again, the titles of the movements should guide the listener.

The poem Peter Quince at the Clavier was written by Wallace Stevens. I was attracted to this poem for its dramatic character and its evocation of exotic places.

Elegy; the Finest School is very dear to me. The text, from Mark Helprin’s Memoire from Antproof Case, was suggested to me by Buck Ross, my long-time friend and librettist, and I was able to secure outstanding performances by tenor Joseph Evans and the strings of the Moores School Symphony and its conductor Franz Anton Krager. Helprin’s text is deep and emotional and was a natural vehicle for musical expression.

Lastly, one of the selections on the CD might seem to give the lie to the musical stories conceit. The Little Symphony for String Orchestra comes the closest to being “absolute” music, but still has story to tell.

The first movement of the Little Symphony is a by-the-numbers Sonata Allegro form, but I chose to create “masculine” and “feminine” themes, in the Romantic tradition giving the movement contrast and opposition. The second movement is a set of variations on the Appalachian folk tune “George Reilley”. Here again, I chose the Romantic tradition of the “character variation” which allowed me the freedom to incorporate strongly contrasting moods and musical characteristics—from plaintive to joyous.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the performers whose immeasurable talents have contributed so greatly to this CD. And I would especially like to thank my engineer/producer Brad Sayles, whose incredible engineering skills and his ear for the finest details have brought my music to life.

I invite the listener to sit back and let the music suggest their own stories and their own journeys!

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