Geryoneïs Outline

I. Geryon (tutti)
Forceful introduction of what I think of as Geryon's theme. Influenced by my perception of the color red--angry. This theme is cut short and replaced by a static kind of texture that will come back a few times. It represents stability.

II., III., IV., and V. overlapping
II. Meanwhile He Came (bassoon)
The beginning of the red thematic idea. Long notes broken up by jagged rhythms.

III. Geryon’s Parents (clarinet and saxophone)
A static duet representing what I think of as the parent gesture. Unchanging and stubborn.

IV. Geryon’s Death Begins (bass clarinet) I need some recommendations for multi phonics.
The second step in the evolution of red.

V. Geryon’s Reversible Destiny (English Horn)
The parent gesture inverted.

VI. Meanwhile in Heaven (tutti)
Heaven is open fifths. G's and D's fading in and out... glistening?

VII. Geryon’s Weekend (tutti)
Another take on the stability texture from the first module. Everything's fine.

VIII., IX., and X. overlapping
VIII. Geryon’s Father (bass clarinet and bassoon)
Single parent, but two instruments. One is used as a drone or to simulate reverb, then their roles change. The opening motive is a quote from "Everything in Its Right Place" by Radiohead.

IX. Geryon’s War Record (saxophone)
The third step in the evolution of red. Becoming angrier, desperate, more dangerous.

X. Schooling (clarinet)
This one actually enters briefly before IX. A kind of false entrance. It's the parent texture again--stubbornness still prevailing over all the red flags.

XI. Right (oboe and clarinet)
I think of this as an interlude. "Everything in Its Right Place" is quotes pretty extensively, though in fragments. I wasn't thinking of the name of this module when I decided to quote, but rather was thinking about how all these modules need to fit together--each one in its right place. There's also Morse code in this module--text from the poem. The clarinet asks, "Are there many little boys who think they are a monster?" The oboe replies, "But in my case I am right."

XII., XIII., and XIV. overlap. They are nearly identical--all red--but played at points of imitation, creating a building wall of noise. 
XII. Wings (saxophone)
XIII. Herakles’ Killing Club (bassoon)
XIV. Herakles’ Arrow (bass clarinet)

XV. Total Things Known About Geryon (tutti)
The order of entrances is prescribed. Each instrument plays a short asynchronous loop, independent with regard to tempo, fading in and out, moving to the next module, etc.

XVI. Geryon’s End (tutti)
A reprise of VI., but different voicing--Geryon in heaven. Nothing is coordinated. The piece is over when everyone has stopped.

Geryoneïs (The Song of Geryon) - Overview

I've been working on a new piece for about a month for reed quintet, and I decided to model it on the fragments of poetry about the mythical monster Geryon upon which Anne Carson's novel Autobiography of Red is based. Carson translated these bits of ancient Greek poetry by Stesichoros which survive only in fragments. Her novel is an altogether different thing, but I kept finding myself being drawn back to these sixteen fragments and trying to fill in the missing pieces. And in some loose way, I felt a kinship between my recent method of composing in modules and these modular pieces of a story.

Initially, I considered composing sixteen solos--one for each fragment. Any chamber group of three to five players could divide the solos among themselves and play them simultaneously without any coordination. I also considered making available two transpositions of each solo, allowing each player to choose which "key" to play each solo in, in order to diversify the harmony. 

Ultimately, I found myself unable to let go of the overall plan of the piece. Much like what I did in Sunken Monadnock and Aubade, I sketched a few modules, and now that I have enough material to popular the entire piece, I have planned for certain specific relationship and intersection. Aside from those particular instances, however, within the modules there will still be a high degree of individuality (i.e., non-coordination between players).



The material is very loosely based on the text. I began to see certain gestures relating with certain ideas in the text. I used the recurrences of these ideas as the basis for when to reprise the associated musical gestures and textures.

There are four ideas that occur at least twice, which I tentatively call red, parents, club, and heaven. Red is discordant, harsh, violent, and ragged--torn was a key word in the text. Parents is harmonically more consonant with tertian chords in a kind of stunted or broken pandiatonicism. Club is sweet and texturally static. (I might have used the word friend except that I liked how club might mean the bar where the friends drink and/or the club that Hercules wields. It doesn't really matter--I'm just talking to myself in these notes anyway.) Heaven is crystaline, transparent--open fifths that glisten.


Sketches of red stage 1 in Meanwhile He Came and stage 2 in Geryon's Death Begins. In the former it is improvised and in the latter it is notated specifically.

Red  at the beginning, orchestrated. 

Red at the beginning, orchestrated. 

Sketch of the  parent  texture. Cells are labeled by letters, which are used as shorthand. Another line (usually up a 3rd) will be added.

Sketch of the parent texture. Cells are labeled by letters, which are used as shorthand. Another line (usually up a 3rd) will be added.


Here's a sketch of the formal plan for the piece.

Click for larger image.

©2017 Joshua Harris