for nothing (2005/2014)
Duration ca. 11’
Premiere performance: School of Music, University of Minnesota, February 28, 2006 Shannon Wettstein, piano
The title of this work is drawn, with admiration, from Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing. Beckett’s narrator is, at turns, comical, bewildering, earnest, angst-ridden, and absurd, operating outside the conventions of plot. As he writes, “a story is not compulsory, just a life....” If we find ourselves asking what circumstances might have animated a particular attitude or response in these texts then it’s likely we have asked the wrong question. Although the title (and the absence of plot) suggests ambivalence, the language is highly figurative and relentlessly philosophical.
I have taken Beckett’s project as a point of departure, rather than relying on a specific text. My piece inhabits a world of rapidly shifting thoughts that span expressive extremes. Behaviors are briefly established and then left without transition, moving in and out in a sort of slipstream approach. The tendency for distinct categories of material to acquire expressive allies as the work progresses is, perhaps, evidence of an awakening consciousness able to contextualize dramatically combative sensibilities into a meaningful equipoise.
for nothing is dedicated to the pianist Shannon Wettstein, whose remarkable dedication to performing challenging modern works has been both inspiring and heartwarming. The piece emerged, in part, as a result of our conversations about 19th century character pieces, particularly by Schumann. Of course, for nothing is remarkably compressed, by comparison.
Shannon’s premiere performances of this piece, in 2006, serendipitously marked the Beckett centennial.
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