Composer A. R. Thomas: “Aurora”

Composer Augusta Read Thomas!

Over the past several weeks I have been listening and studying the work of American composer Augusta Read Thomas. It has been an interesting journey, even though it has just begun.

My first experience of hearing a work by Ms. Thomas was when I logged on to the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. On the program that day was a work which Ms. Thomas wrote back in 1999, for piano, small orchestra and Soprano. The work is called “Aurora”, and I’ll tell you more about it below. Since then, Ms. Thomas has graciously sent me recordings of several others of her musical “children”, and so my journey is becoming more rich with content rapidly. In this Post, however, I’ll share my impressions of Aurora, mentioned above:

This is a work for piano solo and small orchestra. In the final movement there is also a section for Soprano solo. This is the work I have heard most often, so I am getting to know it now. I like it because it gives me, as the listener, some new experiences that are not available in the music I know so well composed during the 1600-1900’s.

Aurora introduces two interesting concepts: The first is the concept of sound decay. That is, after the piano strikes a note, with the pedal on, you hear the decay of the note as the tone dies out. Ms. Thomas uses this characteristic as a building block, and adds to the decaying piano note, the sounds of Clarinet, Flute, Oboe, etc. The second concept is the effect of short, percussive attacks, as overlaid on the “echo chamber”. After these effects are developed seemingly in 2 sections, we hear the final section for Soprano, based on text by St. Ambrose:

“May our souls know no twilight”

For me this Soprano section was somewhat reminiscent of Mahler’s use of the female voice in his symphonies, such as the “Urlicht” in the Symphony #2, or the Soprano solo at the end of Mahler’s 4th. I found Aurora to be highly creative music, with unusual textures, colors, and echo chamber effects. I can’t wait to learn some of Augusta Thomas’ other music, which I will share with you in the future. Feel entirely free to comment on this Post below.

Below is a recording of Ms. Thomas’ Piano Etude V: Rain at Funeral

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