The title of Igor Korneitchouk's Tintinnabulation, meaning the frenzied ringing of bells, comes from Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Bells" and is a 2012 reworking of an earlier Korneitchouk score written in the 1980s for brass and percussion octet. When La Jolla Symphony conductor Steven Schick, a celebrated percussionist, requested an overture-like work to open the concert, the choice seemed apt. By the composer's own account, the revised work is almost a percussion concerto. Here, Korneitchouk takes a moment to talk about what else inspires his work, and how it all began.
"Many many years ago a dear friend of mine copied out for me in her own hand the complete four part poem by Edgar Allen Poe entitled 'The Bells'. Alas this 'friend' relationship was doomed as I wanted more from it than she did. But I kept her handwritten transcription close at hand (I have it with me even now on my desk as I write this), and a few months or so after we parted ways way back then, I got it into my head that I would write a piece inspired by it, 'From the Bells...', with the cryptic inscription 'to LAR' (her initials) under the title. The poem is, after all, a terrific tour de force of alliteration and repetitive cadence:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells -
"As the poem has 4 ‘movements’ - sleigh bells (silver), wedding bells (golden), alarm bells (possibly brass or steel) and steeple bells (iron) - I too wrote my piece, originally an octet for brass and percussion, in movements, - but only 3, naturally leaving out the one about the wedding bells... At the time I was blissfully unaware of all the other composers since Poe's time that have, as well, been caught up in the ebb and accumulating rhythm of his verses. These include the most famous chorus and orchestra works by Rachmaninoff and Holbrooke, a rock version by the Hour Glass, and a folk song by Phil Ochs!
"Flash forward 35 years, after Steven Schick asked me to write an overture-type piece to act as a kind of prelude to the last of the season's Stravinsky-themed concerts, I came up with the notion to use the best parts of that long ago piece which I never actually got a chance to hear. To distinguish this from all the other works titled 'The Bells' inspired by the same poem, I chose to pull out that most singularly descriptive word, 'tintinnabulation', for its title.
"By the way, I am also a big fan since childhood of the Adventures of Tintin, a Belgian comic book hero. (Spielberg's Christmas blockbuster is based on the same character.) This piece 'Tintinnabulation' is not to be confused with 'Tintin Adulation' a piece I might write in the future."
It is performed by the La Jolla Symphony conducted by Steven Schick.