ARABESQUE. For solo violin, piano and string orchestra (minimum: 1, 2, 2, 1, 1). Commissioned by Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà. 2009. Duration: 26 minutes. Score and parts available through  PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Arabesque for violin, piano and string orchestra was commissioned by Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà and is dedicated to them. In many respects, it is an autobiographical work, but its four movements (titled respectively, Innocence, A.D. 1980, With Regret and Gypsy Heart) can also be seen as a metaphorical depiction of four stages of one’s life cycle, starting with the childhood purity and innocence of the first movement, through the rambunctious, disco-like exuberance of the second, in which the first seeds of introspection are also sown, to the introverted moody, coming-of-age third movement and, finally, to the defiant refusal to surrender in the finale, which at the very end nods briefly to the main theme of the first movement. (This “nod” signifies the re-discovery of the innocence of childhood and the understanding that only through such rediscovery is it possible to move forward and grow further). The various contradictory musical genres coexisting in Arabesque point to a post-“post-modern” understanding of structure as metaphor: of some lessons learned; of some wisdom gained; of willingness to apply all this towards renewed action.

Innocence, the first movement, is in the form of a pop song which could have been composed in the first half of the twentieth century. As its title suggests, its structure is uncomplicated, very much adhering to the strophic song structures prevalent in the popular music of the time and is otherwise indistinguishable from the musical genre it refers to. It was a great source of spiritual satisfaction to me (as I am sure it may be of concern to some listeners) that my own creative personality was completely laid aside during the process of writing this movement. But it is clear to me that you cannot truly embrace the experience of a child, unless you are able to shed the layers of experience accumulated on top of the original one throughout the ensuing years. The biblical injunction “unless you become like one of these little ones…” refers, I believe, to this laying aside of one’s adult preoccupation with complexity.

A.D. 1980 is a puzzling movement that may require some autobiographical but also metaphorical explanation within the context of the structure of the larger work. Upon reflection, the year 1980 was the first and most important year of the rest of my life for me. I spent most of it working in a shopping mall in Niagara Falls (ABBA and other disco songs playing through the sound system endlessly[1]) trying to survive a series of seismic shifts in my life, career and understanding of the world. Before this, it was abstract expressionism, elitism, self-involvement and fear of the unknown. After this, I embarked progressively on a spiritual journey that took me many years to fully recognize and understand but through which my life and my music underwent radical changes (twenty eight years later, my life is still a continuing reflection on the experiences of that time). The up-in-your face ABBA-like themes of the opening of this movement, give way to radically introspective moments in the composition, out of which grows a melody for the soloist, journeying through various tonalities, gently looking for meaning along its harmonic development. Its desire to find fulfillment crashes twice against the extroverted disco music, but in the second such encounter, the violin melody continues its upward ascent with (and in spite of) the disco music that accompanies it. At the end it resigns to the interior world of pure timbre, having not been able to reconcile the painful opposites that threaten to tear the structure apart in this movement.

In With Regret, the third movement, we encounter a less confrontational introspection. This movement is moody, solitary and undisturbed. It starts in a soft jazz style, reminiscent of the musical era associated with the first movement, and moves slowly through an inquisitive second theme into a more Arabic-sounding elaboration of the theme, which alludes to the title of the entire work and also presages the more extensive use of Middle-Eastern and gypsy music in the fourth movement. With Regret represents a further deepening of the relatively feeble attempts in the second movement to understand the internal forces that shape one’s personality and recognizing one’s inner demons in action. It is the moment of the realization of having taken the wrong path and the desire for changing one’s ways with apologies to those bruised in the process.

Gypsy Heart, the determined, impulsive and defiant finale of Arabesque is a technical tour de force for the soloist and the ensemble. It matches and even surpasses in exuberance the second movement but here there is understanding, intention, even calculation that is absent in the relatively naïve virtuosic passages of similar import in the earlier movement. The soloist is in complete control of the orchestra and leads it through the contradictory external situations they both encounter with mastery and command. There are still erratic and unpredictable shifts of genre, style and texture in the music but, after the experience of the second movement, the soloist is ready for everything (S)he confronts the various musical elements, cross-references them and accommodates them, even in cases where two different kinds of music in two different intonation systems struggle for predominance literally on top of one another. In the end all the inherent contradiction of this movement resolves into a brief restatement of the theme of innocence, which is signature theme of the first movement. Gypsy Heart was inspired by and dedicated to my own “gypsy”, my fiercely independent daughter, Maria, whose courage, strength, and purity of heart, skilfully hiding behind the contradictions and challenges of the surface, have been the greatest gift to me from God in this life. 

[1] As they were playing again more recently, at the time of the composition of this work, with the success of the musical “Mama Mia”, and its film and DVD release. Coincidentally, a few months before embarking on the composition of Arabesque I spent a few days on the island of Skopelos in Greece, where “Mama Mia”, the movie was shot. I am sure that all of these connections have found their way into the composition of the work.


Premiere performance: September 6, 2009. Angèle Dubeau, violin; La Pièta. La Fête de la Musique at Tremblant, Angèle Dubeau, Music Director, (outdoors) Downtown Mont-Tremblant, Quebec.

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