74. Interviews – Composer Samuel Stokes on his “Scion of Eisenach”
Samuel Stokes is one of four Louisiana composers whose music will be performed at this weekend’s Sugarmill Music Festival happening just south of Alexandria at Rosalie Plantation. Monday I posted my interview with composer Kermit Poling, and also on the schedule are performances of composer Al Benner’s Grace Variations and my own Suite for Solo Guitar.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Stokes who is now Professor of Composition at Northwestern State University about his Scion of Eisenach. This piece for solo cello will be performed by cellist Paul Christopher as part of the final concert of the festival this Sunday. Here is what Dr. Stokes had to say about his composition.
When did you compose Scion of Eisenach and what was your inspiration? I composed Scion of Eisenach in 2014. The cellist Maksim Velichkin put out a call for scores in 2014 for solo cello works inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach. The title, therefore, refers to J. S. Bach who was born in Eisenach, Germany in 1685.
Why Bach? Do you have a special affinity for his music, or was it more about the guidelines of the competition? I have always loved Bach and I am also a big fan of his solo cello suites. I have studied several of the Inventions, Preludes, Fugues, and the French Suites in my piano studies. As an undergraduate, I also took cello lessons in order to improve my ability to compose for string instruments, and I learned the prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 in G major. That piece has some clear influence on Scion of Eisenach.
Did you try to emulate Bach's compositional language in this piece, or did you attempt to pay homage to Bach in another way? I tried to emulate the gestures of Bach's solo cello compositions but with a completely different harmonic language. Small fragments of the melody, however, do contain some fleeting tonal implications without fully establishing a tonic. The sweeping gestures from the lower to higher registers in the piece attempt to create moments of compound melody as in the cello works of Bach.
Did you make any use of the B-A-C-H motif in this piece? The B-A-C-H motif – the pitches B-flat A, C, and B natural – is used as an homage to Bach in Scion of Eisenach. It is a motif Bach himself used like a signature. My use of this motif in Scion of Eisenach follows a great tradition of other composers that have employed the B-A-C-H motif as an homage. It is used as the first four and last four notes in Scion of Eisenach and is also found in the middle of the piece. In other places, it is either transposed or presented over a larger scale with other notes in between.
When was the premiere? Were you able to attend? Scion of Eisenach was premiered by Velichkin on May 4, 2014 in Glendale, California. He also performed it at several other locations in the Los Angeles area that year. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the premiere.
So, will the Sugarmill Music Festival be your first time hearing Scion of Eisenach performed live? Yes, Sunday will be the first time I will see it live!
Is there anything else you would like to say about this piece? As a result of Bach's profound impact on music throughout the world, we might all consider ourselves scions of Eisenach. Sheet music is available for purchase online at Sheet Music Plus.
Don’t miss Sunday’s performance of Scion of Eisenach by Natchitoches composer Samuel Stokes! Sunday’s concert with the Rosalie Piano Trio starts at 3:30 PM and will close the inaugural Sugarmill Music Festival. Dr. Stokes will also speak as part of the Composers’ Panel on Saturday at 4:30 PM. The full concert schedule is posted online. Hope to see you at the festival!
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a composer, music scholar, and advocate of music. Jackson graduated summa cum laude from the Louisiana Scholars’ College located in Natchitoches, Louisiana in May 2013 after completing his undergraduate thesis “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” As series director of the successful Abendmusik Alexandria chamber music series from May 2014 to April 2016, Jackson played a vital role in the renewal of interest in chamber music across Central Louisiana. This interest has encouraged the creation of the annual Sugarmill Music Festival and the new series Nachtmusik von BrainSurge, both of which Jackson will remain active in as concert annotator and creative consultant. Jackson has in fact written program notes for many of Central Louisiana’s key music presenters, including the Rapides Symphony Orchestra, Arts Council of Central Louisiana, and Northwestern State University. He also blogs at MusicCentral where he shares concert experiences, gives listening recommendations, posts interviews with contemporary composers, and offers insights into his own compositions. Jackson has followed classical music around the world, including trips to Colorado’s Aspen Music Festival and the BachFest Leipzig in Germany. As a composer, he has worked to integrate a modern vocabulary into established classical forms in ways that are not only innovative but also engaging to the general listener. His four-movement Suite for solo guitar, Op. 21 received its world premiere on November 5, 2015 and has also been aired on public radio. In fall 2016, Jackson will begin graduate studies at the University of Louisville with the ultimate goal of earning his doctorate in musicology. Learn more about Jackson Harmeyer, his scholarship, and his compositions at www.JacksonHarmeyer.com.