jamesdnormancomposerThere's no denying the power and energy in [his] work... - Houston PressJames Norman’s ‘Incline, O Maiden’ was a brilliant mini-opera enchantingly sung by mezzo-soprano Misha Penton. Using text from Goethe’s Faust, Norman...gave us a jewel-like monodrama modern in its stylings and packed with both visceral drama and ethereal sounds. - Austin StatesmanRegatta [is] an exhilarating piece. ...[T]inkling of metallic pitched percussion...evoked light glimmering off of the bouncing waters of the Pacific while tremolos in the strings acted the part of endless lilting waves. Copland-esque brass fanfares and whirling percussion brought the piece to an electrifying finish. - The Boston Musical IntelligencerOn Redshift:
"...fascinatingly detailed... ...turbulent and thrilling..." - Chamber Musician Today
...Norman’s inventive and constantly varying orchestration propels the work forward. - New Music Box
James D. Norman's music, which includes orchestral and chamber music, music for winds and percussion, as well as two chamber operas and music for film, has been performed throughout the United States. He has held positions at Texas A&M University, The University of Texas at Austin, and co-founded the Austin-based new music concert series, Audio Inversion in 2004.
Dr. Norman has received numerous awards and reviews citing his achievements in music composition and academia. In 2007, Norman's opera Wake... was premiered by Opera Vista in Houston under the direction of Viswa Subbaraman. Amongst his other honors, Norman was invited to the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in 2004 and saw the premiere of his orchestral work, Regatta. He is also the winner of both the University of Southern California and University of Texas Symphony Orchestra Composition Competitions, a Fellow at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and winner of a BMI Student Composer Award in 2003.
Norman’s percussion trio, Redshift, commissioned by Austin-based percussion ensemble Line Upon Line was toured around the country as part of their 2010-2011 season. It has since been performed by a number of percussion ensembles around the country. A recording of the work is available on Line Upon Line's self-titled album.
Other recent performances have included the staging of his dramatic scene for mezzo-soprano, Incline, O Maiden, in Austin and Houston. His orchestral work, Regatta, was also recently performed by the Brookline Symphony Orchestra, East Texas Symphony Orchestra and Fort Bend Symphony.
Current projects include a new work for solo guitar commissioned by Robby Gibson at Troy University, and a choral work for the University of Redlands Madrigals choral ensemble.
A native of Salem, Oregon, Norman received his Bachelors of Music degree in composition in 2002 from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, where he studied with Donald Crockett, Frank Ticheli and Stephen Hartke. Mr. Norman finished his DMA degree candidate in composition at The University of Texas at Austin in 2008, where he has worked extensively in composition with prominent American composers Kevin Puts, Dan Welcher, and Russell Pinkston. Norman currently resides in Naples, Fl, with his wife, Holly, and son, Henry.
Redshift recorded by Austin-based percussion ensemble, Line Upon Line in 2011.
for percussion trio | duration: 12 minutes
In physics, redshift is the apparent change in the frequency of sound or light as an object moves away from an observer. This relationship of two objects (the source and observer) is a fundamental property of the universe, and is the basis for the music in Redshift, relating musician to musician and the musicians to the listener.
The work opens with a brief explosion of sound, contrasted by a soft, rhythmic build of the piece's basic musical theme. Starting from unison, the relationship between each musician changes, as they slowly move apart as the “melody” expands and becomes more malleable. Many slow-developing layers pass in and out, shifting the listener’s frame of reference. Redshift changes character both gradually and suddenly, layering new ideas on top of old ones, further complicating the observable musical texture. The work continues to unfold as new shifting figures permeate the music, while others drift too far away, making way for momentary clarity.
Redshift is scored for three percussionists, each with the same set up of 6 metal plates, 6 wood planks and one modified crash cymbal. The wood planks and metal plates for each player are tuned to the same pitches, in essence, giving each player the same “instrument”.
Three Songs of The Decameron
for mezzo-soprano and piano | duration: 13 minutes
As the plague seizes the town of Florence in the mid-14th century, a small group of survivors flee to the countryside. The group of ten young Florentines pass the time telling stories of love and tragedy.
Isabella (Fourth day, fifth tale) tells the story of Lisabetta whose brothers have murder her lover. In a dream, he guides Lisabetta to his grave where she removes his head and buries it in a pot of basil. Daily she holds vigil next to the remains of her departed love, until her brothers discover the pot and steal it leaving Lisbetta to die of a broken heart.
Fourth day, first story is the tale of Tancred, Prince of Salerno, and his daughter Ghismonda. After her first husband dies, Ghismonda finds a new lover in her father's court, but once her secret is discovered, a disgraced Tancredi kills this new lover and presents his heart to Ghismunda in a golden cup. While weeping for the lost love, Ghismunda careful prepares a poison, which she pours into the golden goblet and drinks and waits for death.
L'oiseau de peu de créance (Fifth day, ninth tale) tells the story of Federigo who wishes to win the love of Monna, who recently lost her husband. Federigo squanders his wealth save for a small farm and his falcon as a display of his devotion. Monna, unmoved at first, reconsiders when her son becomes sick and asks for the Falcon to help him heal. Monna travels to Federigo who wishes to honor her visit with a fine meal. Having nothing to offer, he sacrifices his beloved falcon, unaware of the reason for her visit, to provide a meal worthy of her visit. When, after dinner, Monna reveals the reason for her visit, all Federigo can do is weep. Monna's son then sadly dies, but touched by Federigo's gesture, she eventually marries him.
The texts for this set were written by Misha Penton.
for six violas | duration: 9 minutes
In Robert Frost's poem, Fragmentary Blue, the speaker marvels at the unknown beauties that may lie beyond what we know. He considers the sky, which seems to convey heaven (although he acknowledges that he does not know), that is colored a blue so pure and beyond our reach that it leaves us yearning.
Written for six violas in one movement, my Fragmentary Blue explores the beauty and rich tonal color of the viola as an analogue for Frost's view of nature as entry into the spiritual. Beginning as quiet reflective hymn and ending as an epiphany of sonic beauty, the music takes a long-breathed journey in exploration of simple wonders -- a bird, a butterfly, a flower, or the color blue. Pondering the same sense of the unreachable nature of beauty expressed by Frost's poem, the music quietly ruminates on a single theme that is both in constant variation, and yet in peaceful stasis.
This work was commissioned by Viola By Choice, an ensemble in Austin, TX dedicated to the instrument, for its 2008-2009 season.
There Shone Serenity...
for violin and violoncello | duration: 10 minutes
"From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things." Siddhartha, Herman Hesse.
There shone serenity was written for, and is dedicated to Stephanie Teply and Benjamin Westney, whose stunning technical abilities and gracefully musical playing inspired the work.
I shall meet today unchanging...
for alto saxophone and marimba | duration: 10 minutes
Composed in late 2007, I shall meet today unchanging... is a work for alto saxophone and marimba. Marked motoric and unyielding, this work takes an aggressive stance from the first measure and continues as such, adamant and unchanging over the course the piece. The intense level of the music is maintained for the entirety of the piece and continues across three major sections in the music.
I shall meet today unchanging... is inspired by the philosophical writings of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the "Five Good Emperors" of Rome. The philosophy of Aurelius can be found in a collection of personal writings over the last decade of his life known as the Meditations (AD 170-180). At the center of Aurelius' philosophy is the influence of Stoicism which teaches the development of self-control of emotions as a means of overcoming challenges. The Meditaions, which read like a series of practical philosophical exercises, is primarily concerned with the desire to cultivate a "cosmic perspective". It was from this point of view that I shall meet today unchanging... was written. In many ways, this piece is my musical depiction of facing the world as an advocate of rational virtue.
"Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill." -- Book II, The Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
a subtle flame in the meanwhile...
for bassoon, horn and violoncello | duration: 11 minutes
A subtle flame in the meanwhile... was composed in 2006, and is scored for bassoon, french horn, and violoncello. While the piece isn't programmatic, the title of this work is imbued by the image of a small restaurant off the beaten path, the kind that lit only by the light of candles that sit at the center of every table. In the corner, a small band plays a series of exotic dances near a dance floor. And upon the dimly lit dance floor, a well-dressed couple dance a passionate tango.
a minimum of explanation,
a minimum of anecdotes,
and a maximum of sensation"
-- Maurice Bejart (1927-2007)
Coming Over the Hills...
for flute and violoncello | duration: 9 minutes
Coming Over the Hills is a work of three short movements for flute and violoncello. Each of the movements draws inspiration from traditional music of Ireland and casts various Irish melodies inside three distinctive movements.
The first movement is calm and methodical. At first the music, with a simple melody that draws its notes directly from the cyclical eighth note line in the flute, is drawing only upon rough contours and simple melodic figures from the Irish melody, "The Enchanted Valley". As the movement unfolds the Irish tune is revealed more completely, at first in the cello and later in the flute, while the methodical eighth note backdrop persists. Following a climax of both the melody and accompaniment, the music ends as it began, with the simple statement of eighth note line fading away.
The second movement makes use of a simple and primitive tune called "O'Carolan's Farewell to Music". The melody, performed with little adornment, is plain and uncomplicated. It is accompanied by the cello, at first plucking out a repetitive figure, perhaps reminiscent of something that may have been produced by a rudimentary stringed instrument. Both the melody and the accompaniment soon find more joy in their roles and the music becomes more playful, but at all times retains a quality of a simple folk music.
At last, the final movement is upbeat and moves along at a brisk pace utilizing both a series of original pseudo-Irish melodies and the pre-existing tune, "The Faithful Brown Cow." As opposed to the treatment of the first two "found" melodies, in this case the pre-existing Irish tune is used primarily as a counter-melody. First, it appears in a skeleton form merely providing harmonic counterpoint. Later, the melody appears in bits and pieces, often buried in a larger texture but tries to make itself known through characteristic hemiola and syncopations. Both the flute and cello will make longer statements of parts of the melody before the movement moves into a fairly substantial (as least within the context of this piece) coda that through pattern and fun rhythmic energy finishes off the whole composition.
Proverbs of a Cathedral Builder
for brass quintet | duration: 18 minutes
Proverbs of a Cathedral Builder originates from a compositional exercise I undertook, for purely educational reasons, to compose a number of pieces in the style of the music of antiquity, the Medieval and Renaissance. I enjoy immensely the beauty of the madrigals and motets of the Renaissance, however, I found inspiration in early polyphonic styles of Medieval Europe. Early polyphony began with process known as organum, traditionally just two musical voices, a Gregorian chant melody and a second voice singing the same music down a perfect fourth. Over time the two voices became more independent of each other and thus, true polyphony was born. Increasingly fascinated by the style and the possibilities that it could yield to my own music, I subsequently began work on a piece for brass quintet based on my original exercises in Medieval organum. The result was Proverbs of a Cathedral Builder, a single movement work that moves between a number of different applications and variations of the organum style, with the last section beginning with my original exercise and developing into a large scale organum free-for-all.
Proverbs of a Cathedral Builder was commissioned by the Alpha Iota Chapter (The University of Texas), Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, Spring 2007
for violin and piano | duration: 15 minutes
for solo guitar | duration: 9 minutes
Veracious History, composed in 2004, was written as part of the Hammer/Nail Project for guitarist Robby Gibson. It is cast in a single movement, although, three major sections are easily identifiable.
Veracious History is partially inspired by the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, and the title is taken from the recurring phrase Cervantes uses to describe the farcical episodes of the title character's adventures in a somewhat ironic manner -- this irony is most clearly reflected musically in the halting dance that opens the piece. But, although, the piece has this literary inspriation, it is not meant to be programmatic. Veracious History explores a variety of textures of the guitar often moving from full chordal textures to complex contrapuntal passages, compound melodies, and interspersed with single line quasi-cadenzas. Mimicking the contrast in textures throughout, the piece also moves around freely to the extremes of the instruments range. I love the energy created by the constant motion, never settled on a single way of expressing an idea. However, to keep from sounded too frenetic, only a few number of major motives are utilized throughout the piece. The first is presented in its most pure form at the very beginning of the piece in the snycopated dance. The second major motive is a simple and lyrical chord progression which is heard without adornment in the slower middle passage. These two major motives are found structurally throughout the work and are eventually melded into the fast and furious conclusion.
for flute and harp | duration: 13 minutes
Songs is a set of three movements for flute and harp composed in 2001. Inspired by my mother's (Sandy Norman) own flute and harp duo, RoseWynde and their exploration of traditional and modern interpretations of the Irish folk idiom, I wrote this set of pieces for good friend and flutist Karmen Suter during my undergraduate at the University of Southern California.
The first movement, "Lyric", is just that, a slow and simple lyrically duet. All about expressing the beauty of these instruments, this movement is traditional and emphasizes a melody in the flute that sounds almost like singing inside of this traditional song form.
The second movement, "Fanasy", is a fast, brash exercise for the flute flying all over the instrument. It's based on an original quasi-folk melody that remains tuneful and recognizable throughout, but embraces a more modern rhythmic language.
The last movement, "Relic", is the most substantial movement, far more solemn and reserved than the first two movements. It is a more quiet and musically introverted reflection of music of the past.
Drunk With a Pallid Washerwoman
for four horns | duration: 6 minutes
Drunk With a Pallid Washerwoman was written for hornist Leslie Beebe Hart, Head of the Brass Department and Professor of Horn at Mahidol University, in the Spring of 2001. Written for four horns, the primary intent of this piece is to be fun, not to further promote the unfortunate bias against pallid washerwomen; nor to imply that they are drunk, or that it isn't perfectly normal to associate with a lowly, pallid washerwoman.
Let Thy Wanderings Cease
for string orchestra | duration: 20 minutes
Let Thy Wanderings Cease is a five-movement work for string orchestra. All five movements, each different in spirit, are based upon both the text and a popular harmonization of the hymn, "Watchman, Tell Us of the Night." The music alternates between reflecting upon various aspects and sentiments of the text, and touching upon the music that almost always accompanies this particular text, at times resulting in straightforward quotation. Let Thy Wanderings Cease was composed in 2001 during my studies at the University of Southern California.
Watchman, tell us of the night, what its signs of promise are.
Traveler, over yon mountain's height, see that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes-it brings the day, promised day of Israel.
Watchman, tell us of the night; higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light, peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own; see, it bursts over all the earth.
Watchman, tell us of the night, for the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight, doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease; hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace, lo! the Son of God is come!
Words by: John Bowring
Music: "St. George's Windsor" - George Job Elvey, 1858
184.108.40.206. - 220.127.116.11 - timp; 3 perc; pno - strings | duration: 6 minutes
Ligyrophobia was written during the fall of 2002 during my studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Literally meaning 'the fear of loud noises', Ligyrophobia is in part, satirically premised upon loud noises in the orchestra, but more accurately is a fanfare of sorts that attempts to exhaust the emotional content of its music through intense dynamics, rhythmic vitality, and contending orchestral sections, although it just happens to be quite loud at times. To complement its broad gestural language, Ligyrophobia is composed to be briskly moving from one section to the next, constantly developing, never resting, often moving through series of punctuated surges of noise and quiet. Being that this composition is a work of textures and kinetic linearity, there is a certain freedom to the harmony and lyric content.
The work opens with a thunderous brass fanfare that is instantly obscured by contrasting gestures which develop in the woodwinds, strings, and percussion. Out of these conflicting textures emerges an orchestral unity that is then pitted against the brass still blasting their fanfare. As the music progresses, the bright fanfare opening and monolithic chords in the orchestra give way to rich sonorous harmonies that are built by arpeggio and then swell into the next harmony. This texture quickly transforms into a lively 5/8 section, but maintains the softer sound and smoother harmonies. Although, these sections begin quietly and subtly lyrical, they are interrupted constantly with loud interjections from the rest of the orchestra. Vigorously shifting, both the fanfare and quieter sections return in fragments surrounded by new and older developed material continuing to increase the textural density eventually giving way to near cacophony. As the end approaches each layer of music begins to unfold on top of each other in their own space until a climatic final recapitulation of the opening brass fanfare and short noisy race to the final chord.
Like Social Elephants
18.104.22.168. - 0.0.0.0 - perc; pno - 22.214.171.124.1 | duration: 15 minutes
Like Social Elephants is a chamber work originally inspired to be a companion piece to Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, meaning that they would utilize virtually the same ensemble. Copland's original orchestration called for 13 instruments (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, double string quartet and string bass), but I decided to augmented the ensemble to include one mallet percussion part. Like Social Elephants derives its title, strangely enough, as third generation description of the orchestration as it is utilized in my piece, rather than an allusion to the animal. Given that the orchestration is in many ways from the Baroque and Classical era in nature (tending towards many doublings, often at unisons), the title comes from my readings in particle physics on the behavior of quarks, which only exist in groups and never exist alone; just like social elephants.
126.96.36.199. - 188.8.131.52 - timp; 2 perc; hrp - strings | duration: 9 minutes
In the spring of 2004, I was invited to the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, an occasion for which I composed Regatta for orchestra. It seems fitting that in composing a piece for a festival in Santa Cruz (which sits on the scenic coast of California, just south of San Francisco) that the work would draw inspiration from the water-based Regatta--a parade of sailboats and yachts racing through the deep waters of the Pacific. I wanted to convey a sense of the great energy and speed of the vessels, powered entirely by the power of the wind, as they race across the water. But Regatta does not necessarily depict the course of one of these races, but is more a reflection of having attended or participated in the majesty of the whole event. The entire 8-minute composition proceeds at a fast pace, but moments of lots of activity are interspersed with longer broad melodies that contribute to a grander, more relaxed sense of pacing.
Regatta begins quietly with bustling, rhythmic melodic fragments, from which a simple four-note motif emerges and eventually blossoms into a soaring string-dominated melody. This idea, which persists throughout the piece and moves through many of the instruments in the orchestra, is shifted to the background texture as a new section arises punctuated by fanfares in the brass, bustling activity in the percussion and a steadily increasing sense of intensity and nervousness. After reaching a moment of climax led by the trumpets, there is a brief return to calmness and the broader melodies and textures of the opening. Regatta finishes up in a final combination of the two primary melodic structures, the broader string melody of the opening and the fanfares and blasts of the brass section, in a quick and rhythmic race to the end. The result, I hope, is that all the music feels like it comes from the same source, but also that there is variety and diversity in the economy of ideas.
Incline, O Maiden...
a dramatic scene for mezzo-soprano | duration: 30 minutes
The libretto for this dramatic scene is extracted from the play, Faust: A Tragedy, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The story of Faust—the ambitious scholar who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for love, experience, knowledge, and power—is a fertile source of drama and intrigue that has been the inspiration for many writers and composers. However, it is not the title character of Faust, nor the gentlemanly devil, Mephistopheles, who is the subject of this work. It is the character of Margaret, an original addition to the Faust legend in Goethe’s play and subject of Faust’s desire, who ultimately suffers the greatest tragedy in the play. She is a tragic figure who by the end of the story has been seduced and abandoned, has killed her illegitimate child, and been condemned to death before going insane with guilt as she awaits her execution. The victim of Faust’s lust, Margaret’s struggle is an internal one as she becomes susceptible to the desires and designs of Faust (and Mephistopheles).
Incline, O Maiden is composed in two parts. Part One begins with Margaret as a young and naïve woman who lives with and cares for her sick mother. A young scholar by the name of Faust, who has made a deal with the devil, seduces her. She succumbs to the temptation of young love, but also due to loneliness, inexperience, resentment of her mother's strictness, and a troubled life which left her caring for a child while her sick mother was no more than a burden. Margaret returns home to care for her mother after first laying eyes on the handsome Faust, later to discover some magnificent jewels which have mysteriously arrived in her room. The music is at first bright and innocent, embracing the young Margaret who is a character given to flights of fancy and yearns for love. However, she is also a person who has suffered greatly, to the point that one last tragedy might be enough to push her past the edge. Thus, there is darkness in the music that is allowed to gradually mature and pervade the texture.
In Part Two, having lost everything that she holds dear, Margaret begs for help from the Virgin Mary. At her mother’s grave, she kneels before a shrine, with an image of the Mater Dolorosa (a weeping statue of the Virgin Mary). Before the large sculpture and her mother’s grave, Margaret pots flowers and sings a prayer for mercy. The prayer is accompanied by a steadily increasing musical dissonance mirroring her tortured soul and internal turmoil. She feels guilty for the death of her mother; but, musically, we know that she will never be forgiven, at least, not by herself.
a chamber opera in one act | duration: 50 minutes
libretto by Anthony Suter
Wake was written over the course of year between 2003 and 2004. Essentially an opera in two scenes, Wake is a character drama about three individuals who are caught up in a game of fates, cast against the back drop of a small corner of a drug culture. One of the decisions I made very early on about Wake was that the music would exist in the world of the characters. That is to say, it seemed to me that writing an overtly bleak score with heavy, forbidding themes wasn't an honest representation of the story, at least as the characters themselves were living it. Brooklyn and Jason (the two main characters) are both smart and confident people who don't, or haven't always, seen drugs as a negative element in their lives. They enjoy the artificial sensations that these drugs have provided them, unaware the dark path it has led them down. The music, in this sense, alternates back and forth throughout most of the first part between a lighter, more upbeat score, and a darker, more contemplative one. As the first scene comes to the close, the music has become decidedly more emphatic, tentatively foreshadowing future events. The second scene is far more fatalistic in nature. Whereas the first half bounced freely between the themes, often with great celerity and contrast, the second half slowly builds momentum both harmonically and thematically towards the climatic end.
In modern operatic tradition, Wake utilizes many representative themes and motives, known in the musical world as leitmotifs. When dealing with a form as lengthy and involved as a chamber opera, these recurring musical moments serve as landmarks and subtle clues to the audience, adding depth to the characters and story that aren't necessarily represented in the text (not to mention how they help shape the pace of the opera during the compositional process).
The libretto was written by Anthony Suter, a friend and colleague of mine who is also an accomplished composer.
Opera Vista premiere, Houston, TX
Opera Vista premiere, Houston, TX
Video from Premiere performance
In This Wood
a film score | duration:
James D. Norman