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.

The beginning

The beginning comes from the last few notes of the flute solo at the end of the piece. It is played on the vibraphone. The flute enters at about 1:08 (3rd system in this picture). I'm not sure yet how the piece will begin when it is a flute solo, but probably a shortened arrangement of this vibraphone material (probably will take advantage of the 9th multiphonic--with flutter tonguing on the long notes).

As with the previous post, this is only a sketch.


After a few months of moving, starting a new job, and conducting a major musical production, I finally started a new project this week. I'm composing a new work for flute, electronics, and optional percussion called Aubade. Flutist and poet Wayla Chambo invited me to compose this for her as part of her TranScript project that has composers writing new works based on her poetry. Here's my initial sketch.


This past Wednesday I went into the Memorial Chapel at Sweet Briar College--where the piece will be premiered next spring--and recorded video of me whistling while moving around the space. Today I transcribed a lot of the improvised whistling and tweaked it a little. It will be the final section in which the flute plays alone. She will traverse the space during the piece, ending atop the raised pulpit, where she will play this final section.

©2017 Joshua Harris