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Category Archives: Whitacre-Eric

Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) is one of the most-performed composers of his generation.  He studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond.  His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike.  In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works, both choral (often with his Eric Whitacre Singers) and instrumental, and those of others.  He has also organized a series of groundbreaking Virtual Choirs.

Whitacre is quite web-savvy, with presence on Facebook (the ever changing profile picture is particularly entertaining), WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), and his very own website at EricWhitacre.com.

Equus first came into being as a wind band piece, finished in 2000 and premiered that same year by the University of Miami Wind Ensemble under Gary Green.  Its difficulty lies in the overlay of several different rhythms, many of which defy the piece’s metric structure.  Whitacre tells its origin story as follows (from his website and the piece’s score):

At the Midwest Band and Orchestra convention in 1996, Gary Green approached me about a possible commission for his wind ensemble at the University of Miami. I accepted, and the commission formally began July 1st, 1997. Two years later I still couldn’t show him a single note.

That’s not to say I hadn’t written anything. On the contrary, I had about 100 pages of material for three different pieces, but I wanted to give Gary something very special and just couldn’t find that perfect spark.

Around this time my great friend and fellow Juilliard composer Steven Bryant was visiting me in Los Angeles, and as I had just bought a new computer I was throwing out old sequencer files, most of them sketches and improvisational ideas. As I played one section Steve dashed into the room and the following conversation ensued:

Steve: “What the hell was that!?!”
Me: “Just an old idea I’m about to trash.”
Steve: “Mark my words, If you don’t use that I’m stealing it.”

The gauntlet had been thrown.

That was the spark, but it took me a full eight months to write the piece. There are a LOT of notes, and I put every one on paper (with pencil). I wanted to write a moto perpetuo, a piece that starts running and never stops (‘equus’ is the Latin word for horse) and would also be a virtuosic show piece for winds. The final result is something that I call “dynamic minimalism,” which basically means that I love to employ repetitive patterns as long as they don’t get boring. We finally premiered the piece in March 2000, nearly three years after the original commission date, and the University of Miami Wind Ensemble played the bejeezus out of it.

Equus is dedicated to my friend Gary Green, the most passionate and patient conductor I know.

Here it is in its original version:

Whitacre later (2014) added choral parts to go with the band version, in addition to creating an orchestra transcription (2011).  Below is the band and choir version (see his website for more details):

You’ll find everything else you’ve ever wanted to know about Equus in this dissertation from the University of Miami.

This fall in CUWE, we’re doing another one of Eric Whitacre’s slow pieces.  It’s hard not to – they’re uniformly gorgeous, and they’re incredibly useful for  addressing ensemble issues like tone, intonation, blend, balance, and just plain sound.  This time around, it’s Lux Aurumque – that’s Latin for “Light and Gold”.

Eric Whitacre is one of the most-performed composers of his generation.  Born in 1970, he studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond.  His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike.  In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works.

Whitacre is quite web-savvy:

Eric Whitacre on Facebook.

Eric Whitacre on MySpace.  If you watch the video on either of these, he says how he’s overwhelmed with fan mail.

Eric Whitacre on WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), including complete works list.

Eric Whitacre’s blog.

EricWhitacre.com.

Whitacre even writes his own program notes!  Here they are for Lux Aurumque:

Lux Aurumque began its life as an a cappella choral work that I wrote in the fall of 2000.  When the Texas Music Educators Association and a consortium of bands commissioned me to adapt it for symphonic winds, I rewrote the climax and included the grand “Bliss” theme from my my opera Paradise Lost.

Lux Aurumque received its premiere at the 2005 conference of the Texas Music Educators Association, and is dedicated with deep admiration for my dear friend Gary Green.

This note deserves a little further explanation.  First, Gary Green is the director of bands at the University of Miami, and one of the top conductors of bands in the world.  I had the pleasure of working with him as a trumpeter in the 2001 New England Intercollegiate Band, so I can testify to his greatness.  His recording of this is on YouTube, and it shows his full expressive power:

For those who are counting, he takes Lux Aurumque’s 54 measures of 4/4 and extends them past 6 minutes.  That’s an average of 36 beats per minute!!  But it doesn’t plod – it pulls at the heartstrings at every instant!

The choral version is informative for understanding how the band version came to be.  It’s set a half-step higher (that’s C-sharp minor at the opening) for mixed chorus (SATB, divided), and as Whitacre alludes in his program notes, the climax is different from that in the band version.  It helped make Whitacre (and soprano Melody Myers, see about 1:00 in) famous, with this “Virtual Choir” video:

You can see Whitacre talk about this in a TED Talk (best free internet series ever):

Finally, a live performance of the choral version:

The lyrics are:

Lux,
calida gravisque pura velut aurum
et canunt angeli molliter
modo natum.

That’s a direct translation TO Latin from a poem by Edward Esch:

Light,
warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.

Eric Whitacre is one of the most-performed composers of his generation.  Born in 1970, he studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond.  His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike.  In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works.

Whitacre is quite web-savvy:

Eric Whitacre on Facebook.

Eric Whitacre on MySpace.  If you watch the video on either of these, he says how he’s overwhelmed with fan mail.

Eric Whitacre on WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), including complete works list.

Eric Whitacre’s blog.

EricWhitacre.com.

Whitacre even writes his own program notes!  Here they are for Sleep:

Sleep began its life as an a cappella choral setting, with a magnificent original poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri.  The chorale-like nature and warm harmonies seemed to call out for the simple and plaintive sound of winds, and I thought that it might make a gorgeous addition to the wind symphony repertoire.  Sleep can be performed as a work for band, or band and mixed chorus.

What Whitacre leaves out is that the music for Sleep was originally a setting of Robert Frost‘s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening“.  Alas, the Frost estate maintains very strict controls on musical settings of Robert’s work.  Some reports say that Frost himself banned any musical setting of his work after being disgusted with Randall Thompson‘s Frostiana.  So Whitacre has been denied permission to use the Frost text in any performance or recording.  This is where Silvestri’s poem came from – it is a perfect musical match to “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

Charles Anthony Silvestri’s poem:

The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon

Upon my pillow, safe in bed
A thousand pictures fill my head
I cannot sleep, my mind’s a-flight
And yet my limbs seem made of lead

If there are noises in the night
A frightening shadow, flickering light
Then I surrender unto sleep
Where clouds of dream give second sight

What dreams may come, both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep,
As I surrender unto sleep.

Sleep is all over YouTube.  We’ll begin with an excellent, straight-up band version:

Here are Eric Whitacre’s own Singers doing the choir version:

Now here’s what it sounds like with band AND choir.  That’s Eric Whitacre conducting, by the way.  The video is slightly off from the sound.

Whitacre has put together another virtual choir for a rather eerily polished version of Sleep:

Finally, a version with the Frost text has made it onto YouTube:

Eric Whitacre is one of the most-performed composers of his generation.  Born in 1970, he studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond.  His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike.  In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works.

Whitacre is quite web-savvy:

Eric Whitacre on Facebook.

Eric Whitacre on MySpace.  If you watch the video on either of these, he says how he’s overwhelmed with fan mail.

Eric Whitacre on WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), including complete works list.

Eric Whitacre’s blog.

EricWhitacre.com.

Whitacre even writes his own program notes!  Here they are for October:

October is my favorite month. Something about the crisp autumn air and the subtle change in light always make me a little sentimental, and as I started to sketch I felt that same quiet beauty in the writing. The simple, patoral melodies and subsequent harmonies are inspired by the great English Romantics (Vaughan Williams, Elgar) as I felt that this style was also perfectly suited to capture the natural and pastoral soul of the season. I’m quite happy with the end result, especially because I feel there just isn’t enough lush, beautiful music written for winds. October was premiered on May 14th, 2000, and is dedicated to Brian Anderson, the man who brought it all together.

October is a wind band original.  Here it is in an excellent recording by the Arizona State University Wind Ensemble:

Whitacre has also turned October into an a cappella Alleluia: