Dorff, Daniel : SERENADE for Flute and Harp


SERENADE for Flute and Harp
Commissioned by the celebrated SPARX Flute and Harp Duo (Joan Marsh Sparks and Anne Sullivan)Daniel Dorff's Serenade is a five-movement journey inspired by the sonorities of medieval instrumental music, and in particular by the 14th century love song "Helas! Je voy mon cuer a fin venir." Dorff's neo-medieval sound is full of plaintive lyricism and driving dance rhythms. Each of the five movements may be performed individually for special occasions, as well as in recital as a 16-minute suite.


Notes by the composer.

When Joan Sparks and Anne Sullivan approached me to write for the Sparx Duo, the sound world of their flute & harp duo inspired the perfect opportunity to pay homage to the late French medieval style that has long fascinated me. The resulting SERENADE is in 5 movements, the 4th being a transcription of a song by Solage, with the surrounding movements flavored and paced so the Solage movement fits naturally.

I was first exposed to French medieval music in college and have had this type of piece in mind ever since. The genre is predominantly music by Guillaume de Machaut. Based in Paris in the mid-1300's, Machaut pioneered sophisticated 3- and 4-part sacred music built as concurrent melodies over a plainchant; he also created a similar approach to love songs, continuing where the troubadours left off. The layering of simultaneous melodies often resulted in music that was strictly diatonic, yet freely dissonant within its diatonic limits. While Machaut sounds medieval, the same harmonic syntax guides much of the neo-classicism of Stravinsky and Poulenc, the rich "added-tone" chords of American popular music, and the music I was writing which was (and still is) strongly influenced by the latter.

While Machaut created a new world of 4-part free harmony and complex rhythms (newly available as music notation advanced), the next generation of Parisian composers couldn't help but outdo their teacher and maître. Known primarily from a surviving manuscript called the Chantilly Codex, many composers pushed the envelope of harmony and rhythmic intricacy in a flowering "adolescence" often referred to as Ars Subtilior, Mannerism, and the Late 14th-century Avant Garde.

One of the most beautiful love songs of this repertory is "Helas! Je voy mon cuer a fin venir" by Solage . Typical of medieval courtly love songs, the romantic metaphors are exaggerated, largely about dying of a broken heart, and spicy with double-entendre. The first line of the poem means "Alas! I see my heart coming to an end."

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The SERENADE itself blends my own language, the music of Solage, and French medieval style in general.

  1. ESTAMPIE was an exuberant dance of the period, the word being cognate to our "stamp" and "stomp." It was defined not by a characteristic rhythm, but rather as a series of strains (called puncta), each played twice, often with a recurring ritornello-like closing phrase common to every strain.
  2. MON COEUR means "my heart" and is similar in spirit to medieval courtly love poetry.

III. MUSETTE refers both to a medieval reed instrument, and to a folk dance using a drone bass.

  1. "HELAS! JE VOY MON CUER A FIN VENIR" is the authentic Solage song, originally composed for male singer and 3 instrumental lines labeled from the bottom up as Tenor (in the original meaning of a note that is held), Duplum (second layer), and Triplum (third layer).
  2. RONDEAU is an optimistic answer to the unrequited love of Solage’s work, and a denouement of the previous movements.