Arcadian Tone Poems

Arcadia – a region of ancient Greece that is “a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness.” ~Wikipedia

James Houlik

James Houlik

Two weeks ago, Arcadian Tone Poems, a piece for tenor saxophone and orchestra was premiered. It is always an exciting event, to attend the public “unveiling” of something created in the privacy of my studio. A composition never seems complete until it is performed, and what a performance! Our marvelous Duquesne University Symphony Orchestra played with verve and skill under the direction of Jeffrey Turner and, as you will hear, James Houlik’s performance on saxophone is that of a master.

I was asked by the director to create something fun and accessible, with lots of variety in mood and tone color and to showcase the artistry of James, an extraordinary master of the classical tenor saxophone. Immediately the idea of writing a suite of tone poems came to mind, the perfect medium in which to explore the tonal colors of the saxophone and orchestra.

Evening in Arcadia by Thomas Cole

Evening in Arcadia by Thomas Cole

Tone poems, or symphonic poems, arose as a musical form in the 19th century Romantic era of music, and are “intended to inspire listeners to imagine or consider scenes, images, specific ideas or moods.” When searching for a way to feature the classical saxophone in an imaginary landscape, the idea of a pipe or horn being played in the wilderness suggested the role of the shepherd moving through the landscape and describing its beauty through music. “Arcadia is associated with bountiful natural splendor, harmony, and is often inhabited by shepherds” and so the idea for a suite of four tone poems was born.

The program notes from the premiere:

Written to showcase the saxophone artistry of virtuoso James Houlik, “Arcadian Tone Poems” is a series of aural impressions of the mythic land of Arcadia. Ancient Greeks envisioned a pastoral paradise of hills and valleys, mountains, streams, and forests, populated by the ancient gods. Imagine a contest of aerial acrobatics between birds over a meadow strewn with flowers, or a broad flowing river rushing through the mountains, carrying water sprites on the foam. Perhaps Pan, the ruler of Arcadia, is playing a haunting melody deep in a cathedral forest punctuated by columns of light, or Zeus and his sons amuse themselves with a dramatic game of throwing thunderbolts across the hills. Each movement is meant to be an imaginary stroll through a different aspect of this ancient paradise.

Here’s a montage of selections from each movement of Arcadian Tone Poems 

Here is an audio file of the complete third movement, “Shadow and Light”  (©2013 Lynn Emberg Purse)  

A special thanks to my husband, Bill Purse, for his formidable skills as audio engineer and producer in the process of mixing and mastering the concert recording.

Read more about the creation of Arcadian Tone Poems in Playing With Thunder.

33 thoughts on “Arcadian Tone Poems

  1. I so enjoyed reading this. I’m online in a public place so can’t listen right now but have bookmarked. I love the saxophone and really resonate to the concept of tone poems so am looking forward to this. From listening to your work in the past, I know I’m in for a treat.

  2. Aw, Lynn. . .so lovely. I’ve been underwater trying to get my book finished, so haven’t been around as often as I like. My favorite was “shadow and light” and because I am a Thomas Cole lover, that picture fit so well for your piece. You are simply magnificent! Thank you for such a pleasant treat at the end of a very grueling day.

    • Thank you, Eleanor. I’ve been underwater with these projects too, and have not been around as much as I would like. I found the Thomas Cole painting after I finished the piece, yet it is so close to what I imagined Arcadia to look like. I’m so glad you enjoyed the music; good luck with the book!

  3. Lynn, I can hear Your Garden and the birds, maybe even the water dripping from the leave. Extraordinary! I never new a saxophone could sound like that. I listen Saturday again and again. I have never been fond of the sax until now did not know it could sound like that. Thank you for music education. Is the recording available for the public. I will pass your blog link on to my friends in the meantime.
    Congratulation and

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Carol. James is a master of beautiful tone for the saxophone, so I was fortunate to write for him. We are still tweaking the recording, so I’m not sure if it will be available anytime soon. If and when it is, I will post the details here. I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece and heard nature’s music beneath the surface. 🙂

  4. Thanks for posting the audio here for everyone to enjoy! One can simply close his eyes and be immersed in Arcadia for a few moments – wonderful! Congratulations!
    “A thing of beauty
    is a joy forever…”

  5. Hi Lynn,
    I did enjoy listening to your Tone Poem and probably even more so Shadow and Light, that is a lovely piece of music. What a lovely picture that Evening in Arcadia is!

  6. Beautiful piece. I like the fusion of symphonic and jazz sounds with each having their place. Cheers to your successful premier!

    On a side note, the handbell choir is premier a piece next weekend …. thus my premier ever!

    • Thanks, Frank. I had great fun working in the jazz sections of “Playing With Thunder” – I told the orchestra to think of it as “Night on Bald Mountain” meets “Rhapsody in Blue” – which made them laugh out loud.

      Good luck on your handbell premiere next week!

      • Love the comparison, so I’m happy that I discovered that blend!

        The handbell piece is well done as the composer included many nuances that our directors loves. My part is a bit hairy,

  7. Lovely music, Lynn! It’s very pleasantly surprising to find that the saxophone, such an urban instrument, does a great job in a pastoral setting—perhaps even better than the flutes, clarinets, etc., that such a piece might have had in the 19th century…

    • Thank you, Vlad; so glad you enjoyed the piece. Actually, the saxophone was originally invented as an orchestral instrument but quickly was adopted into jazz, blues, etc. It does work beautifully with the orchestra; James’ performance specialty and teaching mission is to promote the classical approach to the sax and he is internationally known for that.

  8. You’re generous to share this. And kudos to your husband, because the audio is perfection! Clean and bright. The sax is just gorgeous, such control and tone! You both were lucky here – he to have this lovely piece composed for him and you to have him play it. As I listened to the 3rd movement I pictured the rainforest over here, which is often quite dark – it’s very rich with moisture and growth but still dark, and the low, gliding notes resonate with that rainforest darkness. Then there’s a struggle for the light to break through, bit by bit, but it never overtakes the shadowy gloom, rather the two strike a complex balance. Beautiful ending. It’s very good, Lynn! Again, thanks for posting it – it’s extra work for you.

    • Thank you, Lynn – yes, I thought of the forest in Bloedel Reserve when writing this, as well as the Cathedral Forest in northern Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest. I do like sharing my music on this blog; yes, its work but joyful too. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. And you are exactly right about being lucky to write for someone of James’ talent – it was a privilege. Composers and performers need each other!

  9. So beautiful, Lynn. There was something about “The Blue River” that drew me along with it, and I’m pretty sure a part of me was dancing along with Pan’s music, weaving in and out of the sunlight and shadows. 🙂

  10. Oh, my, such a co-mingling of gifts…and all because of your deep, generous art, willingness to imagine and to listen devoutly and intimately to the world, Lynn! Just amazing and wonderful. Houlik is matched perfectly to your creativity and the symphony orchestra seems, to a musician, to embrace the invitations your composition offers. The imagery is rich and vivid, and I’m humbled, happy, and inspired by the blend of magic and effort…just glorious, and I’m so grateful to begin my day’s work by entering the blessing you’ve created. Thank you, thank you.

    • Kitty, your comments are always so generous and so welcome, thank you. It was a collaborative effort between me, the director, the artist, and the students and a positive experience for all, I think. It is different composing for a large group and being dependent on their efforts than the experience of writing and executing a piece for myself, yet the rewards that it yields are exciting and gratifying. I am so glad that you enjoyed the music and that it began your day on a good “note” 🙂

  11. Often, I and suppose many, are over whelmed by a feeling of being lost in the shadows of a unconcerned, close to brutal modern civilization . So we look for escape. Often it is the harmony of nature which offers refuge. When I listen to this (the third movement was a sweet spot especially for me) I become the refugee in your beautiful landscape of sounds . And I thank you.

    A year and half ago I wrote this, around about the time I first visited your site; you must have rubbed off on me.

    • That is marvelous serendipity, Hudson – I love your post! And thank you for your comments. I myself search for refuge in the sound landscape, so perhaps that extends to the listener as well. I couldn’t be more gratified than to know that you found a “sweet spot” in listening to my music.

  12. Congratulations. It is superb.
    From the extracts, I decided that the one I liked most was Shadow and Light, so I was delighted to find the opportunity to hear it in full. Most evocative.
    I thought you would conclude it with the horn, solo and PPP, but have to admit that the reintroduction of the other instruments probably gives a more ‘finished’ finish. 🙂

    • Thank you for taking the time to listen and comment, Colonialist, especially as you are a fellow composer. Shadow and Light was the one I struggled with the most , yet the one in the end that I liked the most.

  13. Absolutely brilliant, Lynn!

    Take the following with a grain of salt (because I don’t really know what I’m talking about). I listened to the piece, in full, twice. After the first time, I thought to myself how nice it would be to have theme-appropriate images to accompany the score. But then, I listened to it again…this time with my eyes closed. During that second listening, the lack of physical imagery became totally irrelevant; the music is so evocative that the pictures appeared in my head. I’m guessing that’s the goal of the composer, no? 🙂

    Thanks very much for sharing this with us and congratulations on the premiere of a terrific piece of art.

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