Rick Sowash | A Portrait at 50

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A Portrait at 50

by Rick Sowash

"American" classical (like Copland, Gershwin, Barber, etc.) with French and English influences (Poulenc, Francaix, Vaughan Williams, Finzi, etc.)
Genre: Classical: Chamber Music
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Harvest Hymn & Harvest Dance: Homage to Willa Cather
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5:59 $0.99
2. A Little Breakfast Music: I. Orange Juice
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1:44 $0.99
3. A Little Breakfast Music: II. French Toast
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5:30 $0.99
4. A Little Breakfast Music: III. Eggs & Bacon
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3:07 $0.99
5. A Little Breakfast Music: IV. Honey on English Muffins
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7:22 $0.99
6. A Little Breakfast Music: V. A Variety of Herb Teas
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5:55 $0.99
7. The Cliffs Above the Clear Fork
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6:37 $0.99
8. Pavane Americaine: Homage to Ravel
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7:26 $0.99
9. Cape May Suite: I. Morning at Seaside
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8:02 $0.99
10. Cape May Suite: II. Victorian Garden
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2:14 $0.99
11. Cape May Suite: III. Dinner at Louisa's
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3:43 $0.99
12. Cape May Suite: IV. Ghostly Waltzes at Congress Hall
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8:56 $0.99
Available as MP3, MP3 320, and FLAC files.


Album Notes

Harvest Hymn & Harvest Dance: Homage to Willa Cather, 1980 (5:57)

I admire the artistry of Willa Cather. Her prose seems always to have a fresh breeze blowing through it.
Since harvest is such an important image in her work, it seemed right to use harvest music -- a hymn and a square dance -- in my musical homage. Of course, the hymn in my homage isn't really usable by a congregation on Sunday morning and the harvest dance wouldn’t go over at a barn dance (it's in 7/8 time). I’ve stylized these folk forms in somewhat the same way as Cather's prose stylizes the "folk events" that comprise her stories.
The formal outline of the piece is borrowed from Copland’s clarinet concerto: a slow opening movement in a regular meter followed by an accelerating cadenza that bridges directly into a rapid second movement in a syncopated meter.
The work is dedicated to Terry King and John Jensen, the musicians who have recorded it for this CD.

A Little Breakfast Music, 1976 (26:14)

A Little Breakfast Music was written in 1976, purely for the fun of it. Even after having been out of college for three years by then, I was still reveling in the joy of writing music with no professors looking over my shoulder. There were two couples in Mansfield, Ohio (where I lived at the time) who played, between them, two violins, an oboe and a clarinet; I wrote this piece for them.
The title is a twist on Mozart’s famous serenade, as though mine is the music for “the morning after.” This alone explains the adjective “little” in my title. The breakfast depicted certainly isn’t “little” -- in fact, it’s downright strapping, even by Ohio standards. And, at twenty-six minutes in length, it’s not a “little” piece of music either.
The opening movement, Orange Juice, is bugle-like because O.J. is, for me, an eye-opener, a sort of gustatory fanfare -- the movement is short because I don’t like more than a few swallows of the stuff.
French Toast is meant to sound vaguely French, a nod to Poulenc and Francaix. French Toast is, one might think, about as French as the name Sowash. But Sowash actually IS French in origin, being an Americanization of the French word, “sauvage (meaning “wild!”) My Huguenot ancestors arrived in America in 1737. That was a long time ago but I still feel like I’m too French to be an American and too American to be French.
Eggs and Bacon owes a debt both to Copland and to Renaissance instrumental music. I think of eggs and bacon as standard Midwestern breakfast fare, as American as Copland or Apple Pie. But I also think of Chaucer’s characters who suck raw eggs to enhance their virility, and thus the hint of Renaissance music. Syncopations are common to both Copland and the Renaissance. So there you have it.
Honey On English Muffins evokes honey right off with a saccharine tune in F major (sweetest of keys). Then come the muffins, very English (an homage to Vaughan Williams). Finally near the end of the movement, the “honey” music is squeezed onto the “muffin” music and it turns out that the two tunes are as effective together as, well, honey on English muffins. Isn’t that sweet?
A Variety of Herb Teas is explored in music that is alternately serene and piquant. It is a set of theme-and-variations, depicting herb teas in all their variety.

The Cliffs Above the Clear Fork, 1980 (6:39)

The village of Bellville, Ohio reposes on a sloping shelf above the little valley of the Clear Fork of the Mohican River. The slope rises westward, ending abruptly at what are called “the cliffs above the Clear Fork.” Probably because the cliffs are nearly the highest point in the valley, the founders of Bellville reserved the adjacent acres for the village cemetery.
During the twelve happy years I lived in Bellville the cemetery and the cliffs were my favorite places to walk. From the cliffs’ edge you can hear the gentle murmur of the water below and there is a splendid view of the Clear Fork making its serpentine way through rich Ohio farm land.
The view is best seen on a bleak November day when the leafy distractions of summer have been completely stripped away, revealing the shapeliness of the surrounding hills. I always like to imagine that an unseen host of early settlers shares my view, peering westward from their eternal resting places. It’s a place that prompts thoughts about the pioneers, the natives who were here before them, the Moundbuilders before them, the mastodon-hunters before them, the glaciers before them and the stars before everything.
The work is dedicated to Terry King and John Jensen, the musicians who have recorded it for this CD.

Une Pavane Americaine: Homage a` Ravel, 1990 (7:21)

This is an American’s homage to Ravel, a great composer, and to France, a great culture. It borrows the formal structure of the master’s Pavane for a Dead Princess. But the piece remains very American in character: in it there are echoes of Gershwin and jazz; Ravel admired both.

Cape May Suite, 1993 (23:07)

The Cape May Suite was inspired by the precious, happy weeks I’ve spent with my wife and children at the delightful Jersey Shore resort town of Cape May. The first movement, Morning at Seaside, expresses a Midwesterner’s awe in beholding the strength, mystery and beauty of the ocean at dawn. Victorian Garden depicts two lovers (oboe and violin) embracing in a floral setting. Dinner at Louisa’s depicts my wife and I (cello and piano) dining at “Louisa’s,” a romantic little Cape May restaurant of which we are particularly fond. The final movement brings the ghosts out of the woodwork in the ballroom of Congress Hall, one of Cape May’s historic hotels; the ghosts twirl to tunes reminiscent of the popular waltzes of the 1890’s, occasionally veering toward the macabre and grotesque. At the very end, dawn breaks (the Morning at Seaside theme returns) and the ghosts flee back from whence they came, departing with one last “OOM-pah-pah! Tah-DAH!”


to write a review

Canary Burton composer & art music DJ at WOMR FM

Straightforward Beauty
I like anything Rick Sowash has to say in music. In the first piece on this album, he honors Willa Cather. Cather is known for her plain
language about pioneers on the Great American Plain. The first piece is
written for cello and piano. in what I'd call a musical translation from the novel to the score. Pure Americana. Which most people love. For sure Sowash is one composer who no longer looks to Europe for his inspiration, style or syntax.
"A Little Breakfast Music" is fun to play with actual breakfast. This album is filled with gentle music that stands up well after many hearings. The overall sound is clear as if the musicians were playing in your living room. No notes are lost in the fuzz of many instruments or maybe recorded in a large hall where distance is created in the sound.
The Cliffs Above the Clear Fork should “go down in history” as music one wants to learn to play. Simple but not. I've actually heard Sowash referred to as “That independent fellow who writes tonal music”. THANK GOODNESS.