Elegy for Margaret (2007)
Performance: Joël Evans, english horn; Susan Seligman, cello; Ruthanne Schempf, piano
Joël Evans asked me to write “anything for English horn” several years ago, but I was so intimidated by the instrument that I completed three choral pieces while still working on the English horn piece. The English horn holds a special place in my heart; ever since I first heard the “Goin’ Home” theme from Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, I was in love. I even studied oboe for awhile with the hope of someday being able to play the English horn. My oboe days are long past (Joël now owns and occasionally plays my oboe), but my love of the English horn persists.
The English horn, though lovely, is problematic. Although its theoretical range is the same as that of the oboe, its practical range is really much smaller. The timbre of the English horn is much mellower than that of the oboe; the higher notes are not so piercing. As a result, solos that range into the upper register can easily be lost in combination with other instruments.
Elegy for Margaret is a four-movement suite for English horn, cello and piano. I have always thought that Susan Seligman’s mellow cello has a tone much like that of the English horn, and felt that the two instruments would sound good together. Each movement is a variation on the main theme, which is introduced by the English horn at the very beginning of the piece. “Fanfare” presents the theme in a declamatory style. “Soft Shoe” is a jazzy and humorous treatment of the same theme. “Requiem” is austere and unrelenting. The last movement, “Chanson,” begins with the solo English horn playing a different theme; the cello re-introduces the original theme. The English horn, cello and piano toss the two themes about in different ways until the ending
I dedicate this piece to my mother, Margaret Hoffman, who died in December, 2006, as I was struggling to complete the “Requiem” movement.