Jennifer Higdon (1962 - ) is an American composer located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvanian. While in college, Higdon studied composition with George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvanian.
Blue Cathedral is a work commissioned by Curtis Institute of Music in the year 2000. In this work Higdon reflects on the recent loss of her younger brother.
Blue Cathedral sets out to tell a story. (as outlined in its program notes.) So in a sense form my be difficult to pin down. (as with most of Higdon's music.) Though certain ideas do return. Nevertheless, this is a programmatic piece with the little bit of context given by the program notes.
This work features many themes attributed to the program notes, such as one for contemplation found at the beginning of the work and for flying (around the 10:55 or 12:00 mark).
In this work, Higdon's harmony works to convey the necessary moods required whether that be diatonic or chromatic. Blue Cathedral is reminiscent of early 20th century film music in its treatment of themes.
ComparisonEditI would like to contrast Blue Cathedral with a work by American composer Derek Bermel (1967 - ).
A Shout, A Whisper, and a Trace from 2009 is an orchestral work that takes influence from the folk style of Bulgaria. (sort of Bartókian) The composer relates to Bartók after reading his old letters saying, "The fresh perspective (from Bartók's letters) enabled me to reflect anew on my own experiences living in unfamiliar countries and cultures."
In Bermel's work, the Bulgaria influence begins to show immediately, offering strict contrast to the meditative beginning in Higdon's work. Bermel's work starts at the 5:00 minute mark after his introduction. A folk like melody becomes the main focus of the first movement throughout. Also the techniques implored by the ensemble are drastically different than what Higdon wound do. (Inside the piano string glissandi)
The second movement is really reminiscent of the night music of Bartók. Bermel says in his introduction that he was influenced by Bartók and it shows. The atmosphere created by the timbres of various instruments brings a concept of orchestration not found in Higdon's work.
What is there to say. Blue Cathedral is just a beautiful work, it was written with a specific goal in mind and I feel it accomplishes it quite well.
derek bermel : home. "Derek Bermel - ORCHESTRA - A Shout, A Whisper, and a Trace (2009)." Accessed April 21, 2014. http://www.derekbermel.com/music_detail.cfm?trackID=52.
Higdon, Jennifer. blue cathedral. Program notes. http://www.jenniferhigdon.com/pdf/program-notes/blue-cathedral.pdf
"Jennifer Higdon: blue cathedral (with introduction)" YouTube video, 17:04. Posted by "New England Conservatory" upload February 27, 2013. video.
"New Music: Derek Bermel; A Shout, A Trace, and A Whisper" YouTube video, 23:45. Posted by "Idyllwild Arts" upload May 8, 2013. video.