Waiting (2013) by Peter Josheff
for oboe, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano
World premiere; Earplay commission

Waiting was commissioned by Earplay. The request was to create a work to be performed alongside Arnold Schoenberg’s Ein Stelldichein (1905), which would share its instrumentation of oboe, clarinet, violin, cello and piano.

To write a piece of music in response to another — not an homage, not an imitation, not a contrasting work, but simply one’s own music — is a strange and wonderful challenge. The pitch material of Waiting is taken directly from Schoenberg’s Ein Stelldichein. No pitch has been added or taken away, and all the notes appear in the same order that they do in the Schoenberg. The only exceptions are three A-flats that occur near the beginning of Waiting (measures 9-12). Although there is nothing to suggest it in the Schoenberg — Ein Stelldichein has a key signature of three flats, and the surrounding area is crawling with A-naturals — I found myself hearing A-flat major for a very brief moment at the outset. I’m sure my decision to include these pitches influenced the unfolding of the rest of the composition. But those A-flats are my only note contributions.

There are aspects of Schoenberg’s language that reveal issues specific to the time of its composition (the rhythm of course, but also the use of the whole-tone scale, augmented triads, etc.). One such aspect is an E-flat major triad followed by a half-diminished chord built on D. I had no idea what to do with this progression and doubted whether I would be able to invent anything of my own out of it. But as I played the passage over it began to resemble the in-and-out breaths of harmonica playing (exhaling the major triad, inhaling the half-diminished). It seemed humorous, which is strange, because the Schoenberg passage is almost heartbreakingly tender. Eventually I found a way to integrate it into my own harmonic world and am very happy with the outcome.

I also tried to maintain all of Schoenberg’s dissonances and their resolutions. As I worked I began to discover that my basic method would be to peel away the surface of the Schoenberg and expose its underlying harmonic continuity. The composition of Waiting involved refashioning this harmonic material into something I could recognize as my own.

Waiting is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Dorothy Cary, who died December 18, 2012. I began studying Ein Stelldichein while living in my mother’s Wisconsin home as her full-time caregiver during the summer of 2012. Whenever there was time I would study Ein Stelldichein, reading the score silently in the morning while my mother slept, and, occasionally, playing it on an upright piano at a neighbor’s house. I began composing in earnest after returning to California in early September.

The experience of staying with my mother lives deep within Waiting. One concrete example: I learned for the first time during this visit that my mother played harmonica. She had bought herself a very fine chromatic harp and could play tunes from her Irish heritage as well as the blues. What I came to see as Schoenberg’s harmonica moment (see above) might well have been suggested by my mother’s playing.

— P. J.    

[from program for March 18, 2013 concert]