Dating back to the 13th century, Špilberk Castle has a dark history. Standing on a hilltop in the Moravian city of Brno, surrounded by chestnut trees in a beautiful park, its dungeons served for six centuries as a prison, holding war prisoners, Polish political prisoners, persecuted religious groups, and Czech patriots resisting the Nazis. Eventually it was a military barracks, and finally in 1959 became a municipal building and park and home to the Brno City Museum.
During several visits to Brno in the 1990s, Clark spent much time walking in the surrounding park, as well as participating in rehearsals inside the castle with the municipal dance company for which he composed his ballet, PTACI. Two memories remain vivid:
“Dark Rain” – leaving the castle on a pitch-black night in a cold, late-October rain.
“Moravian Autumn” – one of many sunny autumn afternoons walking through golden chestnut leaves in a timeless euphoria.
Written for Pleasant Street Players Ian Davidson and Vanguel Tangarov, colleagues at the Texas State School of Music, Sur la Neige is a snow fantasy on three quoted musical ideas. The work begins with an obscure quote from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, elaborated and then transitioning into a quote from Debussy’s Prelude No. 6 in his Préludes, Book I. Eventually, a small decorative figure from Janácek’s Sinfonietta appears and quickly disappears like a scurrying bystroušky (fox).
Two memories of walking in the snow stand out in long-term memory. In about 1965, one recreation of a restless Michigan teenager on winter nights was to put on boots and parka and hike through snow-covered fields and forest in the moonlight. In 1992, my composer friend Arnost Parsch led me on a walk into the logging forest above his Moravian village, Bílovice nad Svitavou. Through late-fall snowflakes, we retraced the steps of Janácek, passed the natural-spring well and the Sokol tavern up to a beautiful promontory view of the snow-covered village below.
1. Zámek – peaceful gardens 2. Poldi – ironworks 3. Svobody – Freedom plaza
Kladno is a Czech city in the Central Bohemian Region 25 kilometers northwest of Prague. In the middle of the 19th century, the discovery of coal there led to the establishment of one of the great ironworks and then steel mills in all of Europe.
Kladno is near Lidice, the village destroyed by the Gestapo in 1942. Of the Lidice men who were all shot in the atrocity, many had walked to Kladno each day to work in the coal mine or the Poldi steel works.
Poldi has thrived and survived for more than 100 years, through two world wars and occupations of the country, but the factory finally closed and most of the buildings are now abandoned.
The city remains a thriving place with a population of 70,000, a large church, municipal building, state library and archives, monuments, theaters, museums, and beautiful parks. The Czech people have always been hard working, they love gardens, especially roses, and they love beer in the fine pilsner style they created.
Suffering under so much occupation and oppression throughout their history in the center of Europe, Czechs especially value “svobody” – freedom.
Final piece of the Czech chamber music trilogy for the Pleasant Street Players,Ian Davidson, Vanguel Tangarov, Asbell, and their musical associates.
Climbing Blaník records musical impressions of an autumn walk up this legendary mountain. A famous Bach quote sets the forest scene of fluttering golden leaves above the rocky landscape. Blaník’s history goes back to 5th-century BC Celtic ruins, but the structure at the summit now is a replica of a Hussite watchtower. A 15th-century legend says that St. Wenceslas and an army of knights slumber inside the mountain and will awaken to defend the Czech people when they are attacked.
solo soprano saxophone and sax quartet (2 alto, ten, bari). 2018. Duration 7:30.
String Theory – In Memoriam Larry Austin is based on the idea current in particle physics that subatomic particles of matter at the deepest fundamental level are all spinning strings of energy. Translated into music by analogy, small three-note segments of a diatonic scale (C Major) become ostinatos spun simultaneously at subtly or wildly different speeds. This is an example of an abstract musical idea like those at the core of much of the experimental music of pioneering composer Larry Austin (1930 – 2018), Clark’s 40-year colleague, collaborator and friend.
Middle in a series of three works (following Hukvaldy Sketches and preceding Climbing Blaník) inspired by Czech culture and written for the Pleasant Street Players, Ian Davidson, Vanguel Tangarov, Ames Asbell, and their musical associates.
The stone Charles Bridge spans the great Vltava in Prague, connecting Old Town to the Lesser Quarter’s St. Vitus Cathedral and Presidential Palace. Built in the 14th century, its 16 arches are guarded at each end by magnificent bridge towers typical of Prague‘s Gothic architecture. Some 30 statues watch over peddlers and a constant stream of local and tourist pedestrians. To be among them always evokes strong feelings of history and the joy of Bohemian life.