Writing "Notes To Loved Ones"
The Story of a CD
I appreciate Darren Rea of Review Graveyard opening his review of "Notes To Loved Ones: Music for Strings and Piano" with the assessment that "Dayton crafts an album that sounds like the highlights of the lifetime's work of an accomplished composer" (Mar. 9, 2018). While this very flattering pronouncement rings of a little too much finality in the ears of a composer only born in 1990, Darren accurately assessed the scope of the music covered on the album. From some of the earliest works in my official catalogue to some of the most recent, strings have played a crucial role in the development of my compositional voice. Equally important in this development have been friends and loved ones, hence the title and theme of this album, who have been added to my life even as I have added works to my catalogue. Only a fraction of the 'responsible parties' who might be listed in the "...array of visual artists, poets and other musicians that the American composer has encountered thus far in his rising career" have made it into the word-count limited liner notes of this "attractive new release by Peter Dayton" (Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press, Mar. 8, 2018).
"This album of works by Peter Dayton (born 1990) show a composer whose heart and care are palpable. His melodic sensibilities are at center stage. It’s a collection of works whose main motifs you’re going to walk away from a performance singing. These works are often inspired by people or pieces of art, and that makes this album all the more like a personal tribute. These works practically hum with the intensity of love and life, and they are presented in sequence in a way that makes the process of listening to them feel like looking through a beautiful photo album. These performances are emotional and dedicated, and Dayton is a young composers who has a voice that deserves to be heard often." (American Record Guide, June 2018)
Listen to Notes to Loved Ones on Spotify
Photo by Rob Clatterbuck
The "brief but lovely" (Whole Note, Apr. 2018) Fantasy, for Viola and Piano appropriately starts the album as it is my the earliest work in my catalogue, though thanks especially to the composer and violist Christopher Lowry (who also recorded the work on his own debut album) it is one of my most frequently performed. Composed in 2009 while I was studying composition at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music, the premiere of the work by another longtime musical ally Emma Dansak marked the first public performance of my music. A composition that is held together through the use of a leitmotif-like melodic line that superimposes itself over different colors, harmonies, and moods, it is my hope that that melodic thread creates continuity through a youthfully restless series of contrasting sections, ultimately weaving a work that "is contemplative and collected" (Review Graveyard). The work's varying sections and textures reflect my influences and interests of that time, including my teacher at that time, composer Michael Kurek, jazz ballads, and early 20th century French and American music.
Recording Session of "Fantasy, for Viola and Piano" with violist Yang Guo and
pianist Michael Sheppard. Photo by Christian Amonson of Arts Laureate Recording.
The Morceaux des Noces, for String Quartet, a "well-crafted sequence of contrasting pieces" (INFODAD.com, Mar. 28, 2018), began as a commission to celebrate the marriage of flautist Sarah Wood, another colleague and collaborator from my studies at Vanderbilt University, but quickly grew into a larger work, with symbolic significances beyond its original purpose. I received the commission in the fall of 2012, when I was beginning a Master's Degree in composition at SUNY Stony Brook University. In the bedroom community environment of middle Long Island, NY, and thrust by my educational trajectory into a long-distance relationship, I found it difficult to compose at all. While I made some initial progress on the work while in New York, the first movement, with its harmonic nods to George Antheil's Americana-tinged third string quartet, only came to life during an involuntary (but welcome) extended stay at home in Ohio. I had flown home to attend a performance in which my little sister played Cecily in "The Importance of Being Earnest," the same weekend that Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island. A weekend stay turned into 10 days, during which the music could not reach the page fast enough. Even as the "mostly gentle allegretto" (Steven Kennedy, Cinemusical, Feb. 28, 2018) itself celebrated the union of Sarah and her husband, it was evidence enough to me that I needed to separated myself from SUNY Stony Brook.
"Morceaux des Noces, for String Quartet" manuscript excerpt
Recording Session of "Morceaux des Noces, for String Quartet" with violinists Sarah Jane Thomas and Marika Suzuki, violist Yang Guo, cellist Lavena Johanson.
Photo by Christian Amonson of Arts Laureate Recording.
I left the program at the end of the semester, returning to Nashville, TN, where the "the heartbreakingly beautiful" (Review Graveyard) second movement and third movement were composed over the end of 2012 and into 2013. The second movement, in keeping with the first movement's nuptial theme, was dedicated to my parents, whose support during my decision to leave the Master's program (and in so many other things), was invaluable. The third movement, dedicated to my boyfriend, took a reference from his favorite poet, Hart Crane, to fit the theme, using the title of a Crane poem: "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen." Steven Kennedy seems to have grasped the aesthetic connection to Crane's poetry in his description of the final movement: "the music works its way from more traditional harmonic expression to more deeply connected intervals and dissonance that feels a bit more troubled as we enter the third movement. This tension is broken with a slight increase in speed, but the more tortuous and romantic drama of the earlier movements is also revisited in this tightly-constructed work" (Cinemusical). "Torturous and romantic drama" describes well the feeling of much of Crane's romantic/modernist poetry, a tribute to both the literary and real poets in my life at the time. The whole three-movement quartet was premiered in early 2013 at a fundraising concert of my music for the gay rights group Freedom to Marry Ohio, along with the "Variations for String Quartet" and other pieces.
Chronologically the album now jumps forward to the most recent of all the pieces, but the friendship that germinated the "Sonata 'Los Dedicatorias,' for Violin and Piano" goes back to around the time of the composition of the first 'Morceau des Noces.' During my time at Vanderbilt University I took an interest in the paintings of the Peruvian artist Fernando de Szyszlo, and composed numerous pieces inspired by his beautiful, dark, sensuous paintings. Through pure chance, the artist Fernando de Szyszlo found a video of my music inspired by his paintings on YouTube in the Fall of 2012. Fernando's son e-mailed me on his behalf saying he was "touched and delighted," and almost immediately invited me down to Perú to visit them at some point. In later messages about my works inspired by his music, Fernando wrote: "Dear Peter, I have just hear your music, I love it. I think the climate of it is similar to the one I search in my painting." I had the great fortune to be able to meet Fernando de Szyszlo and his son Vicente twice in New York City in the next few years, but it felt too great a liberty to impose upon their hospitality. In the fall of 2014, however, after completing a fourth work inspired by Fernando's paintings during my Master's Degree at Peabody Conservatory, I finally decided that I should take the chance while I still had it (Fernando was 89 years old at the time), and scheduled to fly down to Perú in early January of 2015.
Photo with Fernando de Szyszlo and Vicente de Szyszlo in Lima
The experience of that remarkable and short trip is one that I will hold with me forever. From my serendipitous meeting of Adam George on the plane and his friend Cristina Espejo at the airport, the view of the Pacific from the cliffs of Lima, walking along the sea of Lurín with Vicente's daughter Manuela and Manuela's baby daughter Noella, attending a local jazz performance with Vicente's daughter Fernanda, the generosity of Vicente my host, Fernando's own kindness and graciousness and the chance to look in his studio at some yet-unfinished paintings, and the chance to meet his wife Lila. In about four days I met nearly a century's worth of de Szyszlos, and some other friends as well! It would take until after I completed my Master's, until the late summer of 2016, to begin work on the Sonata. Using the generative technique of transforming the letters of names into notes (a technique I first observed in Ravel's "Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn" and "Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré"), I grouped the people I met during that trip into pairs of names, which then provided the basic musical material for each of the four movements, "the result then is this interplay between interpersonal lyrical lines and a dialogue between the violin and piano" (Cinemusical).
Photo with Adam George and Cristina Espejo
The four movements set out to create an appropriate tone for each pair of figures, "exploiting the full range of his instrumental choices" (Winnipeg Free Press). The first movement creates a fugue out of an abbreviation of Fernando de Szyszlo's name, with Lila (with whom I had the least contact, sadly) making a plaintive appearance near the movement's conclusion. The focus was to capture the serious and dramatic feeling of Fernando's paintings, but not any one painting in particular this time. The second movement attempts to capture the contrast between Vicente's garrulous and talkative personality, "with an almost mesmerizing repeated motif that winds itself around the occasionally jagged solo line" (Cinemusical) and his daughter Fernanda's more quiet, but gentle comportment. The third movement, the first to be composed, is my attempt at a portrait of maternal love, taken from my day spent at the beaches of Lurín with Manuela and Noella. While reviews have noted an impressionistic quality to the piece, along "with the juxtaposition of the highest part of violin’s range against the warm, middle tones of the piano" (Review Graveyard), the piece has its closest spiritual kinship with American composer Irving Fine's Violin Sonata (Fine being introduced to me the previous year by Peabody professor and composer Judah Adashi). The final movement, having nothing to do with the de Szyszlos themselves, pays tribute to my chance friends and companions who helped me navigate to the de Szyszlo's residence as well as spending a day exploring the city of Lima with me before my departure. Along with the stunning views and beautiful architecture, what I remember most about that day was the laughter, the joking, the witty repartee among us, and I channeled as much of that as I could into a joyful final rondo that, like the bus we rode around the city, on narrow streets, and up mountains, seems at times about to topple over but manages to stay upright.
I feel deeply fortunate to have visited Fernando, Vicente, and the entire family, and to have been able to sent them a rough version of the recording found on this album in the summer of 2017, to which Fernando had a chance to listen. Tragically, in the fall of 2017, Fernando and his wife died together in an accident in his home in Perú. This work stands as a commemoration of our friendship, with the first movement equally a tribute to Fernando's art, and a lament for the passing of one of the most significant figures in modern Peruvian painting.
"Sonata "Los Dedicatorias," for Violin and Piano" manuscript excerpt
Recording Session Photo by Christian Amonson of Arts Laureate Recording.
Jumping back in time again, the "Variations, for String Quartet" was composed half-a-year before Fernando de Szyszlo found my music, in the last days of my Bachelor's Degree at Vanderbilt University in the spring of 2012. The piece was the result of participating in an exchange with London's Royal Academy of Music in a program spearheaded by composer and Vanderbilt professor Dr. Michael Alec Rose and contemporary music champion Peter Sheppard-Skærved (which also played a pivotal role in my longstanding creative exchange with John Hitchens, which you can read about on my page "A Sort of Painting of Reality"). However, the work owe's a true debt of inspiration to Simon Söfeld (a Swedish composer participating in a different, simulatenous RAM exchange), whose variations-based string quartet -with a prominent cello cadenza as well- presented to me with some ideas for how to tackle the particularly daunting medium of the string quartet. It is a piece that, by nature of its singular-minded treatment of a small motivic cell in highly contrasting styles, actually bears the most structural resemblance to the "Fantasy."
Other names should be mentioned in connection with this work, as Cinemusical rightly identified it as "a bit of an overview of 20th-Century quartet writing." Very consciously, I tried to fit into my chosen harmonic language, the sound worlds of Copland's late chamber music, Shostakovich, Feldman, Britten, and in the final, indeterminate variation, a tribute to the British composer Michael Finnissy, whom we met and whose "Second String Quartet" (which we heard performed) uses some similarly textural techniques. I am flattered that reviews have connected the piece with "the ethereal quality of Olivier Messiaen’s haunting works" (Winnipeg Free Press), one of the 20th century composers not intentionally connected with the work, and the highly chromatic, but still ultimately tonal, language certainly could connect with avid Messiaen fans. Even as this piece was indebted to Söfeld's quartet for its form, "Morceaux des Noces" is indebted to the "Variations;" within the basic chordal structure of this quartet lies the material that I expanded into a larger structural framework than this piece's series of short episodes. These two quartets seem fated, in material and airtime, to always be companions, as the "Variations" was also premiered in the spring of 2013 at the same fundraiser as the "Morceaux des Noces."
"Variations, for String Quartet" manuscript excerpt
The "Sonata for Violoncello and Piano" fits between the string quartets and the Violin Sonata, composed during the fall of 2014, with its most salient feature on this album being its contrast from the other works' "penchant for lyrically-arching melodies and more tonal harmony" (Cinemusical). Composed as part of a departmental collaboration between Peabody's composition and bassoon students, the work was designed to be playable with nearly no alterations between the bassoon and cello versions. This piece hearkens back to the "Fantasy," this time to that work's premiere performer Emma Dansak, who had performed Shostakovich's "Viola Sonata" with me, a shaky-at-best accompanist, in 2011. My Sonata was a chance to channel the anxieties of that performance experience, as well as create a work of penance that could do more justice to Shostakovich's masterpiece than my pianism could, "successfully channeling some of the earlier composer’s frenetic pacing and bitterness of expression – without, however, becoming overtly imitative"(INFODAD.com). Composed in reverse order, with the "deeply introspective and tragic" (Cinemusical) second movement coming first to my imagination, it was the frantic first movement that simulaneously expressed and expelled my fear of the middle movement of Shostakovich's Sonata, to create a work dubbed "captivating from its starting and pervasive first-movement trills onward." (INFODAD.com).
"Sonata, for Violoncello and Piano" manuscript excerpt
Even as musical ideas - whether harmonic, melodic, or formal - reoccur, so the same names with new ones always being added make up the sources of inspiration, comfort, encouragement, support, and love, that all contributed to this "lush and varied album which will bring you years of listening pleasure" (Review Graveyard). I am proud that "the music here is all quite accessible for those looking to explore new music for string quartet or interested in hearing a new violin or cello sonata"(Cinemusical) and hope you will choose to do so.
"An interesting and promising debut Navona CD" (Whole Note).