An Idyll for the Misbegotten
“An Idyll for the Misbegotten” (1986) conjures the lonely solo flute of Debussy’s “Syrinx” and plants it among three rumbling drummers. On a stage illuminated only by the dim light of lamps on music stands, the flutist plays lines that flutter, dip and soar over a bass drum that rolls like distant thunder. When two other percussionists are added, call-and-response figures from either side of the stage, it is as if storm clouds have suddenly burst open wide."
Steve Smith, New York Times, February 4, 2008
Inspired by elements of sorrow for environmental harm caused by humans, An Idyll for the Misbegotten was published in 1986. The work is scored for amplified flute and three percussionists and is roughly 15 minutes in duration. The first percussion part is scored for bongo drums, African log drum, 5 tomtoms, and small bass drum. The second percussion part plays bongo drums, African log drum, 5 tomtoms, and medium bass drum. The third percussionist plays only a large bass drum.
Composed for famous Canadian flutist, Robert Aiken, Idyll was premiered in Toronto in 1986 with percussionists Beverly Johnston, John Brownell, and Richard Sacks.
Idyll showcases many extended techniques, which include: amplification, flutter tonguing, measured vibrato, pitch bends, glissandi, whistle tones, multiphonics, key clicks, speaking while playing, and a falling tremolo that he marks "Turtle-Dove effect" in the score.
Notes from the composer:
"I feel that 'misbegotten' well describes the fateful and melancholy predicament of the species homo sapiens at the present moment in time. Mankind has become ever more 'illegitimate' in the natural world of plants and animals. The ancient sense of brotherhood with all life-forms (so poignantly expressed in the poetry of St. Francis of Assisi) has gradually and relentlessly eroded, and consequently we find ourselves monarchs of a dying world. We share the feverent hope that humankind will embrace anew nature's 'moral imperative.'
My little Idyll was inspired by these thoughts. Flute and drum are, to me (and perhaps by association with ancient ethnic musics), those instruments which most powerfully evoke the voice of nature. I have suggested that ideally (even if impractically) my Idyll should be 'heard from afar, over a lake, on a moonlit evening in August.'
An Idyll for the Misbegotten evokes the haunting theme of Claude Debussy's Syrinx (for solo flute, 1912). There is also a short quotation from the eighth century Chinese poet Ssu-K'ung Shu:
"The moon goes down.
There are shivering birds and withering grasses."
Quotation from poem, "To a Friend Bound North After the Rebellion"
In dangerous times we two came south;
Now you go north in safety, without me.
But remember my head growing white among strangers,
When you look on the blue mountains of home.
The moon goes down behind a ruined fort,
Leaving star-clusters above an old gate.
There are shivering birds and withering grasses,
Whichever way I turn my face.