Bb clarinet, horn in f, violin, cello, piano and percussion (7’).

Before its more modern usage as “illustration facing the first page of a book,” the word frontispiece (from the late Latin frontispicium) originally meant “judgment of character through interpretation of facial features.” I have an image in my mind of what the old treatises on frontispicium might have looked like—full of drawings of several types of faces demarcated by arrows and floating text—which posited that something as enigmatic and personal as one’s character could be generalized and quantified by a few common physical attributes.

I was drawn to the idea of incorporating the tradition of the 19th-century character piece, a genre that we classify for its program-less evocation of specific moods or scenes—many brief and possessing a singularity of concept—into a work about quick character judgments. Toward this aim, I created five brief movements that, like the faces of strangers, are just the “fronts” of the deeper ideas that lie within. They are expositions without developments— the tips of icebergs. Across each movement, there is something seemingly hidden from view. Like a true first impression (and in some ways like those character pieces that suggest literary connections without specifying any actual story or subject matter), each movement is without a title, leaving the listener to infer from the features of each movement the nature of each “character.”

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Performance: Eric Lindsay (conductor) and Indiana University musicians.

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