for clarinet, violin, cello, piano, 23 minutes
Instrumentation: clarinet, violin, cello, piano
Nebula, in three movements, takes its inspiration from, in turn, a galaxy, a heavenly body, and a constellation. Rhythm and timing, important elements in the motions of the stars, are also central concerns in this work.
The opening movement, Andromeda, begins with a musical evocation of the great spiral galaxy, our closest galactic neighbor. Following this is a delicate faster section, subtitled “quantum mechanics,” in which very fast rhythmic figures are passed throughout the ensemble in a dance-like evocation of the motions of the stars. Occasional effects, such as pizzicati glissandi and sul ponticello in the strings, enhance the otherworldly texture. The opening motto returns, and the movement winds down to a very soft and quiet close.
The clarinet solo which opens Luna, the middle movement, represents the serenity of the moon. The cello and piano enter after the cadenza, augmenting and embellishing the clarinet’s melody. Gradually, a second motif appears, which closes the first section with a strong cadence. Following this is a short passage of almost improvisatory sounds, after which (following a second clarinet cadenza and extended transition), the opening melody reappears in canon between the clarinet, violin, and cello. The form of the opening is repeated, and Luna closes quietly in the high register.
A segue, following directly upon the close of Luna, leads to the finale, Orion.
Orion begins with a refrain depicting the constellation, a sort of pictograph, with the three stars in Orion’s belt very clearly apparent. The form of the finale resembles a rondo, with this refrain serving as the rondo theme. A very fast, syncopated, jazz-like section and a gentle, reflective passage serve as contrasts to the prevailing high-powered drive of the movement. After the refrain’s final appearance, a Presto coda, like an up-tempo “tag” on a jazz tune, closes the work on an exuberant high.
-- Andrew Earle Simpson