En Chapeau Notes:


In 1943, the year I was born, Picasso placed bicycle handlebars above the seat and created an image of a bull as a found object. There is an implied familiarity with the association of objects, which have their own identities, but which assume new ones by the process of reassembly. Naturally, the implications of complex multiple identities present themselves: the bicycle parts are still just that; however, the new unity is an animal representation in general form. The new "object," even though it does not in reality relate to its parts, assumes its own recognized shape along side.


You never know where an idea for a piece will sneak up: in this case I got the idea for the musical malapropism, "chapeau" (in this case for bateau in Debussy's title) from a scene in Richard Benjamin's 1982 film, My Favorite Year. The film is about the appearance of an Errol Flynn-like swashbuckler movie star on a TV variety show in the 50's. In the scene, the movie star is invited to the Brooklyn home of the mother of a TV writer assigned to look after the star. Everyone in the neighborhood becomes starstruck; and when the star appears at the door, the mother blurts out, " welcome to our humble chapeau (hat)" in a misguided attempt to sound sophisticated.


En Chapeau for violin and piano treats a multiplicity of quotations from the music of Claude Debussy, assembled in such a way that a new musical form, independent of the references, emerges. The opening of En Bateau is combined with Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun," and the arpeggiated accompaniment of the former turn into a famous passage from Clair de Lune. All of the quotations, which include passages from other movements of Suite Bergamasque, snippets of Children's Corner Suite and the Second Book of Preludes, are totally recognizable, but they are brought into unconventional and often ludicrous associations: e.g., Golliwog's Cakewalk becomes a backdrop for the En Bateau melody: one could say that it rocks the boat to humorous effect.


The piece is subtitled "A Burlesque with apologies to Claude D" because the piece also pokes good-natured fun at some of Debussy's eccentricities, like always stating an idea twice, or holding off the cadence with some semitone substitution. What emerges is a kind of familiar entertainment with a referential panoply that puts the music of Debussy in a specific place in time and space. That composer would never do the things to the phrase structure and harmony that I have, primarily because he wrote out of his own time and experience and I write (or perhaps steal) out of mine. Although I am annoyed by the term "postmodernism," I think that its descriptive use here is appropriate, because it takes a progressive, "modern" style, live impressionism, and firmly anchors it to the distant past.


En Chapeau by its very title telegraphs the humorous intent: it is hoped that the smile it brings is one of wisdom.


P.R. Summer, 2004