On Monday, I posted my first Composer’s Log with updates on how the opera is progressing. I planned to publish a second post this coming Monday, but I have been getting so much done—partly because I know I will be moving much more slowly the first two weeks in August when I am teaching the Young Composers Project Summer Edition at the Hartt Community Division—that I decided to share a second update this week.
Marie Curie Learns to Swim focuses on three characters: Marie (of course!), her daughter Irene, and her deceased husband Pierre. Pierre casts a shadow over the entire opera, looming in the background throughout and emerging from Marie’s memories for a sequence involving duets and a solo aria. So far, I’ve been focusing on those sections of the opera where Pierre is present (not counting a small side trip to work on a duet between Marie and Irene that is related to part of Marie’s conversation with Pierre).
The first idea I sketched for the opera was a motive from Pierre’s aria (seen above). Most of the other early fragments I created have ended up in the discard pile, but this one survived. Kendra’s words “a violent, vile wound” immediately struck me with their alliteration, energetic rhythm, and dark meaning. With a little tweaking, this idea formed the basis for Pierre’s entire aria, which is the first section I’ve completed with accompaniment.
I’m a very motivic composer in general and am especially so in my vocal writing. I tend to saturate the music with different forms of a motive, placing them and varying them to add layers of meaning to the story. In this case, Pierre’s material form the basis for the accompaniment seen above, both in the rippling sixteenth notes of the right hand and the asymmetrical accented pattern in the left hand. Using the melodic material as the basis for the chords creates a clear harmonic field, and continuing the motive even when Pierre is singing about more positive aspects helps to keep the dark nature of radium present as an undercurrent. The motive also appears throughout the other sections I’ve drafted, reminding listeners that radium is not simply the cure-all Marie and Pierre believe it to be.
Now that I’ve got Pierre’s aria completely drafted, I will be working on filling in the surrounding duets with Marie. The first one is sketched out but the accompaniment still has a long way to go, and I haven’t started on the second yet. So, lots more to do!