Hammer and Wind was commissioned by saxophonist Willem Moolenbeek. The work was first performed at the St. Jacob’s Schoolhouse Theatre on 25 March 2000, and received it’s “official premiere” at the World Saxophone Congress in Montreal in July of that year. It was performed on those occasions, as it has been many times since, by the Willem Moolenbeek/Boyd McDonald duo.
The piece began as a single movement response to the commission from Moolenbeek, but I found that more was needed, and over several years the work expanded to three movements. The music has much to do with dualities, as already expressed in the title (and in the nature of the performing ensemble). The main musical germ is the Db/C diad, which is announced in the piano at the outset of the first movement. The entire work is an expression of the uneasy relationship between these two pitches. Rhythms are also slightly unnerving and intense--often the saxophone and piano are rhythmically independent. In the second movement, the two pitches become scales; that movement is largely based on the two major scales, Db and C, expressed simultaneously in piano and saxophone respectively, and then swapped between the instruments at the mid-point of the movement. It is a peaceful movement, but has a bittersweet edge because the instruments retain tonal independence. The final movement is driven much by the hammer/wind duality, as is obvious from the percussive nature of the piano part, and the almost uncontrolled fury of the saxophone. And the pitches, the Db/C, are never totally reconciled. The music simply "runs out."
The news of Canadian composer Harry Somers’ passing (09 March 1999) was announced while I was struggling with this piece. I was stunned, and not prepared for that death. Somers’ music had been the object of my PhD dissertation, and I had learned much from him and his music. The work, dedicated to his memory, ends with the both piano and saxophone robbed of their music--the piano is left with pitchless pulses, the saxophone with a final breath only.
in memoriam Harry Somers