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Variations on the Housatonic

Composer: Christopher Swist

Instrument: Marimba and Tape

Level: Advanced

Published: 2007

Price: €25.00

Item details

  • Description +
    • Duration: 14 min.

      Having spent 10 years now living in New England it is only natural that at some point I would construct a "New England" piece. With references to the Housatonic River, Charles Ives and recorded samples from Connecticut, this variation set embodies much that is regional. The theme of this set is a partial quotation of the texture in the piano accompaniment to the Charles Ives song "The Housatonic at Stockbridge." In more deference to Ives, the seven variations are heard first with the theme being reserved for the end of the piece. This was a common technique in the music of Ives called cumulative form. The marimba has a clearly differentiated texture in each of the 6 played variations and final theme. Variations 1, 5, and 6 are acoustic. Variations 2, 3, and 4 are accompanied by electronic sounds that process natural sound samples from Connecticut. Variation 7 is electronics only and the theme is accompanied by unprocessed nature samples. The samples were recorded with AKG 451 microphones on a laptop computer with Pro Tools. Sound processing and design was compiled through Digital Performer, Max/MSP, and Pluggo. Variations On The Housatonic was premiered in Connecticut in September of 2007.

  • Instrumentation +
    • Marimba and Tape

  • About the composer +
    • In 1999, The Instrumentalist stated that Christopher Swist’s published marimba work “should become a part of contemporary four-mallet marimba repertoire.” Since then his compositions have been published and performed across the United States and Canada as well as in Europe, South America, China, and Australia. His first solo CD Whitewater, funded by the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music, was released to critical acclaim in 2001. Percussive Notes found the recording to have “musicality, interest, and excellent sound.” His Percussion Quartets No 1 and No 2 were featured on the 2008 Festival Internacional de Inverno de Campos do Jordão in Brazil. In 2012, The Bard Conservatory Orchestra premiered Swist’s orchestra piece Abaprima. TMI Arts Page reviewed the premier as having “joyous sound” and “a natural for the orchestra.” Abaprima was also performed in 2013 by The Louisville Orchestra.  

      In October 2013, his second solo CD, Duality, was released and contains 77-minutes of acoustic and electronic music. Like Whitewater, Duality has also gathered positive reviews on both Swist’s compositional technique and performance style. American Record Guide commented, “The stick work is good, with tight rolls, evenly gradual dynamic increases and decreases, and sharp accents on the ascending and descending motives.” Percussive Notes wrote of Swist’s “compositional range” and noted “Swist shows extreme aptitude and ease in performing all the keyboard instruments.” Percussive Notes also found the “recording quality is excellent” on Duality. Christopher learned recording engineering and sound design from his late father Larry Swist, an internationally acclaimed studio designer, recording engineer, and producer.  

      Professor Swist is Artist in Residence at Keene State College where he has taught music technology, percussion, composition, and music theory since 2003. He is also on faculty at Franklin Pierce University and has taught at Bennington College, The Hartt School, and Holyoke Community College. He was recently a clinician, soloist, and conductor in Peru for the Ministry of Culture and National Symphony in Lima. Swist was educated at SUNY-Buffalo and The Hartt School, holding two M.M. degrees in both performance and composition. His percussion teachers were Jan Williams, Tony Miranda, John Rowland, Ben Toth, Al Lepak, Glen Velez, Johnny Almendra, and Luiz D’Anunciação. His composition teachers were Jeffrey Stadelman, Stephen Gryc, Robert Carl, Ken Steen, and Ingram Marshall. Christopher is an active symphonic percussionist as well as a contemporary music advocate and often performs with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.  

      Christopher Swist is the president for the New Hampshire / Maine Chapter of the Percussive Arts Society. He is also the treasurer and a charter member of the Kappa Pi Chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda (national music honor society).  

      Christopher Swist is an artist for Sabian Cymbal Makers and Vater Percussion.

  • Reviews +
    • Review (Percussive Notes, July (60) 2012)

      This 14-minute composition for marimba and electronic sounds is, in the composer’s words, “a New England piece.” This refers to the Housatonic River that runs through western Connecticut and Massachusetts and the influence of Charles Ives, also a New Englander, on the thematic material and compositional procedure of the piece.

      This work is comprised of seven variations followed by a statement of the theme; variation number seven is for CD playback without marimba and is approximately two minutes in duration. An assistant is required to initiate the two playback cues during the composition; technophiles could easily trigger playback of the accompaniment via foot pedal, as the cues occur at opportune moments during execution of the marimba part. The accompaniment consists of droning arrhythmic noise, making the coordination with the marimba part very easy and the potential combination a worthwhile enterprise.

      This work’s aesthetic challenges outweigh its technical demands, and to be effective it will require a mature interpreter who pays deference to the electronic accompaniment and pursues a sensitized interpretation with the fragmentary and textural marimba material.

      —Ron Coulter

  • Credits +
    • Front cover artist: Ronni Kot Wenzell
      Performing artist: Christopher Swist
      Copyright © Edition Svitzer
      Printed in Copenhagen, Denmark

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