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Fall Colors

MIDI recording

Instrumentation: Beginning string orchestra and solo string quartet (grade 2.5), with optional prelude for unison chorus

Duration:
Prelude: ca. 45 seconds
Fall Colors: ca. 3 minutes 30 seconds

Text: “Fall Colors” by Mark Harbison (2015). Used by permission of the author.

Year composed: 2015

Place composed: Kansas City, Missouri

Program Notes: One of my favorite things about Kansas City is the way the leaves change color in the fall, trading the green of summer for vibrant red, orange and gold. Fall Colors begins with the full string orchestra on a unison G, representing the green of summer; but the strings use different playing techniques, including pizzicato (plucking the strings), sul ponticello (playing near the bridge), and sul tasto (playing near the fingerboard), to represent different shades of green. The string quartet enters, playing pizzicato notes and figures that activate note changes in the orchestra, until the orchestra is holding out a diatonic cluster—all the notes in a G major scale, from the original G to the G an octave higher, representing all the different colors of fall. This leads into a melody played by the string quartet; the melody is drawn from the choral prelude, which has as its text a poem by my brother, Mark Harbison. Following the melody, the cluster builds up again and the string quartet pizzicato returns, but this time the pizzicato activates changes that take away notes, rather than adding them, representing the leaves falling from the trees. The full string orchestra eventually comes back to a unison G, portraying the trees that look the same once again, but this time bare of leaves instead of green. The string quartet plays one final pizzicato chord, ending the piece in G major but also recalling the cluster, reminding us of the cyclical nature of the seasons: even in winter, the return of spring, summer and fall awaits.