Six Lives of Jack McBride and Quarter-After-Four

Posted By on January 2, 2009

I would like to make an advertisement for two of my best works, “Six Lives of Jack McBride” for horn, tenor, violin and piano and “Quarter-After-Four” for horn, violin and piano.

“SIX LIVES OF JACK MCBRIDE” was commissioned by Charles Putnam and the IHS Meir Rimon Foundation. It was premiered in 1994 at a recital hosted by the American Ambassador to Luxembourg at his residence. I sang the solo tenor role of Jack McBride, Charles Putnam played horn, Attila Keresztesi on violin and Beatrice Rauchs performed the piano part. The work’s main theme is based on an old Gaelic theme from the Orkney Islands. I wrote the following about “Jack McBride”:

Flipping through an encyclopedia or perusing at a bookstore, one’s eyes pass by dozens of pictures and titles of the most dramatic events in history. If one allows his eyes however to halt haphazardly and focus on the subject on which it lands, he may become instantaneously captivated by the pictures or words before him. He is for a moment transported to the time and location of the story. From Admiral Peary’s conquest of the North Pole, or the slaying of Captain Cook by the Hawaiians, to the Battle of Hastings, every recorded event in history from all over the globe is at one’s fingertips. It is indeed the closest we can get to time travel.

The idea to write a work which deals with the notion of global-historical time travel has always fascinated the composer. To find, however, a musical medium in which to protray this concept can prove to be difficult. After reading about and viewing televised documentaries on the phenomena of reincarnation and the practice of hypnotizing individuals for the purpose of “going back” to possible previous lives, the composer thought that this might be the best scenario in which to set the piece. We have at once a recurring, consistent character (the person being hypnotized) in Jack McBride, who being of Gaelic descent, is given an old Gaelic theme. He then gives a firsthand account of his six previous lives, which happen to be the times and places that fascinate the composer the most.

The six lives in the character of Jack McBride:

1. Auschwitz – During World War II approximately 4 million people, mostly Polish Jews, were dragged from their families and homes and sent on trains to Oswiecim, the site of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Jack McBride was among them.

2. 1850 – The great expanse of the western plains, stretching from Canada to Texas. The early settlers of this wild terrain built their farms on vast stretches of land, sometimes several days’ ride from another human being. On certain Sundays the settlers from all over central Texas would come together at the church and after the service and business discussion, they would dine together and enjoy one another’s fellowship. Jack McBride remembers.

3. In April, 1789, the crew of the trade ship Bounty was forced to mutiny against their captain, the notorious lieutenant Bligh. Aware of their crime against the British Crown, they sought out a remote uncharted island, where they set fire to the ship and lived out the rest of their lives. On the ship’s register – Thomas Hampton, boatswain.

4. In 981, Erik the Red set sail from Iceland to explore and settle the land he called Greenland (“he said people would be much more tempted to come there if it had an attractive name.”) Most of these settlers established themselves in Julianehaab (The Eastern Settlements). Because of the increasingly poor conditions, the settlers were eventually cut off from the rest of Europe. Archaeological evidence of grave finds reveals a grim story of progressive deterioration in this hardy Norse colony. It is unlikely that any of them survived into the sixteenth century.

5. According to Matthew 4:25 in the Holy Bible, “Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan” met on a mountainside and listened to Jesus Christ preach his message to the world. A voice from somewhere deep in the past of Jack McBride’s transmigrations gives an account.

6. The year 72 AD. On the eastern edge of the Judean desert, on the brim of the Dead Sea fault, 15,000 Roman soldiers laid siege to the fortress citadel of Masada, which had been occupied by the Zealots for two years. Because of its position high on a four-sided cliff, the Romans could not succeed in capturing the city. After enslaving people from the surrounding settlements (including other Zealots), they forced them to build a giant ramp up to the fortress. When they finally arrived at the top, the Romans discovered to their horror that the occupants of Masada, some 967, had committed mass suicide. This is witnessed through the eyes of one of the Roman soldiers.

This work is a very serious composition indeed! It is one of my best works to date. I have performed the role of Jack McBride many times at concerts in Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland. And I am very often willing to travel long distances to sing it. So if you are interested in performing this dramatic piece with me, please do not hesitate to contact me.

“QUARTER-AFTER-FOUR” was commissioned by Mr. Attila Keresztesi, the violinist who was so active in the creation of “Jack McBride”. These are my notes from 1996:

Every night around four fifteen I awaken. It is neither sudden nor brought on by a bad dream. Usually my mind is quite blank when I drift out of a deep sleep. Then as if on cue the first haunting thought occurs. It is usually a dilemma I have not been able to resolve. I’ll turn it over in my head one more time until I’m reminded of something I said to someone who may be mildly related to the dilemma. Embarrassment, anger, and regret come over me as I relive the stupid remark…there in the darkness, under my sheets.

Turning on my side, I’ll toss off an insult to myself about my irresponsibility and suddenly I am reminded of something I was supposed to do, or perhaps something I must do tomorrow. I won’t however be able to take care or it tomorrow because of that original dilemma I was pondering earlier.

I turn over on my other side, and slowly many other problems and dilemmas, each somehow related to the original one begin to circulate in my head. I toss and turn more turbulently now, and usually throw the covers off in an overheated sweat. I make conscious attempts to calm my mind, reciting the 23rd Psalm or Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

Sometimes the clear solution will briefly come into focus through the confusion of prayers, bewilderment, and resentment. Then it too will become swirled into the grand dilemma. It remains unsolved. And the storm that haunts me every night at quarter-after-four has numbed my mind. I drift off as quietly as I awoke.

Quarter-After-Four was composed during the month of September, 1996. It was originally intended to be a piece for violin solo and piano, which was to be written for the violinist Attila Keresztesi, a colleague of mine in the Luxembourg Philharmonic. The addition of the horn brought a wider spectrum of color and special effect possibilities. It was also a logical choice to add the horn, as several horn players of international repute had suggested I compose a piece that could conceivably be programmed with the Brahms Horn Trio. I hope this piece will be added to the already fine repertoire that is steadily growing for this type of ensemble.

Both of these works have been recorded on CD: “Six Lives of Jack McBride” can be heard on the “Unlikely Fusion” CD (ebs records 6066) and “Quarter-After-Four” on “Ricochet” (musicians showcase msrcd ms1064). You can also hear short clips from each work on this website. Go to Catalog of Works and click on the picture of the cover.

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