Persephone

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17′

For 13 players 1011 – 0000 – piano – strings (22221)

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Description

Commission and world premiere by ROCO

duration: 17 min.

instrumentation:

13 players
1011 – 0000 – piano – strings (22221)

Program notes (by the composer):

Persephone is an exploratory search for a what “might have happened” before Copland’s iconic Appalachian Spring.
In trying to find “the opposite of” spring, I read with interest the myth of Persephone. We first see Persephone picking flowers in the field, when suddenly she is abducted by Hades and taken on a chariot-ride to the Underworld. In response, a grief-stricken Demeter, Persephone‘s mother, causes a worldwide famine. Ironically, Persephone actually begins to like her new role as “Queen” of the Underworld, and even falls in love with Hades. There begins a conflict between the gods: Zeus/Demeter vs. Hades over who gets to “keep” Persephone. Eventually, a compromise is reached, and it is agreed that Persephone will stay with Hades part of the year (fall/winter), and return above-ground for spring and summer (hence Appalachian Spring).

Musically, I always found the last three flute notes of Appalachian Spring interesting, because they are the only time
those notes appear in that pattern. Therefore, I decided to start my piece with those three notes, and make them
my “Persephone motif”.
Copland’s work! also has a relationship between A and C Major, so I likewise keep that minor-3rd relationship alive
using C and E . (The Persephone motif fits nicely into those keys as well.) Because the piece starts still in springtime (picking flowers), my music is very Copland-esque on purpose, as if we are still in that world. Like Copland, I also draw upon an American folk-tune – “Home, Sweet Home” – for material throughout the piece. Notably, whenever the chorus
of “Sweet, Sweet Home” is played with regard to the Underworld, it descends; but as we return to above-ground, it ascends. A couple of times, especially when we are furthest away from “Spring”, I add very iconic Appalachian Spring chords to remind us that the entire piece is based on Copland’s genius, and that we will eventually get back there!

Lastly, although I conceived this as a “prequel,” I could imagine it being played after the Copland as well – or by itself. The seasons are cyclical, of course, so the order isn’t necessarily mandatory; and Persephone ends up-tempo and with much vigor, in case that sort of finality is preferred.

My many thanks once again for the opportunity to work with ROCO and their executive director, Alecia Lawyer, to bring this piece to life!

~ Jim Stephenson; January, 2024

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