soprano, clarinet or soprano saxophone, piano, and percussion
or soprano and piano
text by: Tao Lin
Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program
with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.
Premiered by The Color Field Ensemble at Constellation, Chicago, IL on August 18, 2013
“I’ve been immersed in Christopher Cerrone’s music for several years—performing, discussing, observing the process, and occasionally offering advice—and I’ve come to think of it all as ‘vocal music’, even in its purely instrumental moments. In his Invisible Overture, one of the earliest pieces I heard, an arching woodwind melody emerges from violent string gestures, a premonition of the elegiac opera to follow (Invisible Cities). It’s a recurring setup in his music: relentless development of a single musical point, until it is almost forced to become a song.
Chris’s I Will Learn to Love a Person is a piece about relationships—personal, romantic, harmonic, and timbral. Like all of his music, it obsessively controls its limited musical materials in service of big emotional catharses.
There are two contrasting “types” of song in I Will Learn to Love a Person. The first, third, and fifth songs emerge from extemporaneous-sounding clouds of harmonies and words: call it text message recitative. The second and fourth songs are bright and motoric, with a candid humor that counteracts the extreme vulnerability of the slow movements. The five songs are masterfully sequenced in a harmonic palindrome, with short interludes of repeated E’s acting as pivot points. Harmonic changes are few, and withheld until they feel revelatory.
The relationship of text and music is no less painstaking. It’s a rare case in which a musical setting is more than the sum of its parts: Tao Lin’s poems, which can be difficult to pin down on the page (are they sincere, or a bit glib?) and the music, so diaphanous at times it seems in danger of evaporating—powerfully concentrate each other in combination. Both elements sound simpler than they actually are. The pianist offhandedly touches some notes, outlining a harmony, over which the singer declaims what could be a series of self-pitying text messages:
seen from a great enough distance i cannot be seen
i feel this as an extremely distinct sensation
of feeling like shit
I Will Learn… requires a wide-ranging and nuanced dramatic performance in order to work correctly; perhaps more than a song cycle, it should be thought of as a self-analytical monodrama. Its protagonist is a precocious observer of the world and other people, but also immature and wildly heartbroken; the process of the piece is the discovery that there is, of course, no set of rules that govern human relationships.”