Roger Briggs - Program Notes

Works Listed Alphabetically.  Scroll Down.


At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point.
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I.     Footfalls echo in the memory
       Down the passage which we did not take. . .

II.     Investing form with lucid stillness
        Turning shadow into transient beauty

By T. S. Eliot

These words shaped my work while I was in residence at the MacDowell Colony in 1981. Haunted by the past, working in Aaron Copland's and Leonard Bernstein's surroundings, encouraged and intimidated by their legacy, and not quite knowing my own path, this work slowly and laboriously emerged. I was both surprised and gratified when it received the Dreyfus/MacDowell Award that year. The 'still point', became a turning point and I began to see a path to follow.



While in residence at the MacDowell Colony a fellow resident artist showed me a new ink sketch. The sketch depicted five distinct areas of fantastic abstract energy that seemed to fuse and interact with one another creating a swirling, furious, wildness. Instantly I knew this was visually the concept I had been attempting to touch musically. It didn¹t seem coincidental that I was writing for five virtuoso players of the highest order‹the Da Capo Chamber Players. Immediately, I went to work and within a month had completed the work.

CHAMBER MUSIC is a single movement work that maintains a constant quick tempo throughout. While the notion of repetition is essential to the fabric and structure of the work, it is really about thematic statement, design and developments. a theme that keeps living, growing and maturing in each and every textural circumstance it encounters. The dazzling virtuosity of the Da Capo Chamber Players considerably influenced the nature of the work as it is a highly virtuosic, relentless and fiercely provocative attack from beginning to end lasting nearly 10 minutes.

CHAMBER MUSIC, commissioned by Franklin and Marshall College, was completed February 15, 1987.



In 1977, while I was a student at the Eastman School of Music and teaching a class to gifted high school music students, I met Deborah Plutzik (one of my students) who introduced me to the wonderful poetry of her deceased father, Hyam Plutzik. Little did I know at the time that Deborah would someday be my sister-in-law. I couldn't resist setting this poem, Equation. The serpentine images left me no choice but to use the sinister, coaxing, mysterious bass clarinet. The work was first performed at Eastman in 1977.



The title GATHERING TOGETHER is taken from the poem, 'The People Gathering Together' by my friend, Patricia Goedicke. Her poem addresses a bitter-sweet subject: attempted connections between peoples all over the world.

GATHERING TOGETHER, a musical response to her poem, is a single movement work that is sub-divided into four major sections. Section one introduces a driving metrically diversified rhythmic strata. Section Two superimposes a long lyrical theme over variations in the original rhythmic strata. Sections three and four attempt reconciliation between materials from the first two sections.

GATHERING TOGETHER, originally conceived as a chamber orchestra work, was composed for Keith Williams and The Music Ensemble. It was premiered at Saint John's Smith Square in London in 1985. Since then the work has been performed by many prestigious chamber orchestras throughout the United States and Europe and has received several awards. In 1995-96, I 're-composed' it for full orchestra and recorded it with the Czech Radio Symphony.



In 1989, my final year in South Bend, IN, Caroline Dillon, a vocal student at the time, commissioned these works for her senior recital.  I had been interested in the beautiful and direct poetry of Linda Gregg for a few years, having become acquainted with her writing while at the MacDowell Colony. I had also been teaching and creating for 11 years at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, an all women's Catholic college. These experiences gave me time to reflect on the nature of a world with very few men. I had a chance to observe many varieties of female to female relationships (from a male perspective, of course) and also continually reflect on male / female issues.  Linda Gregg's poems offer a rather opposite perspective--a females perspective on men and relationships with men. In these songs I offer one male's musical perspective on one female's poetic perspective of relationships with males.  I intend these songs to honor the never-ending, beautiful, sometimes bitter sweet, spiral of male/female perceptions of one another.



Beginning with a simple theme in a folk-like style, Impromptu progresses to a central section dominated by a driving rhythmic fugue whose subject seems to evolve naturally from the original folk-like tune.  The fugue then morphs into a colorful, wave-like re-transition.  As the waves subside, the original theme emerges.  

Milica Jelača Jovanović asked me to write her an impromptu for a concert produced by the Piano Area at Western Washington University.  She premiered it at the same concert in May of 2007. 


The title is taken from a line in Author Rimbaud's “A Season in Hell”. The music is deeply simple. The initial idea is based on two notes a whole-step apart. This binary relationship becomes the structural foundation for the entire work--like the large and small cycles in nature, it exerts control over the macro and micro structure. Commissioned in 1982 by Bonnie Rettig for her daughter’s birthday, it was first performed by Jeffrey Jacob and Roger Briggs at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN.  



L'il Nipper is a short 3 part canon based on a short, annoyingly familiar four note motiv. My colleague and friend, Bruce Hamilton, asked me to write a short piece for a short concert of short works. At about the same time my friend and colleague, Lesley Sommer (related to Bruce through marriage), wrote a short e-mail using the short phrase 'Li'l Nipper'­a phrase I had only heard about twice. You know the rest of the short story.



Monolith, commissioned by Bruce Gustafson and Arthur Lawrence, was premiered in the Church of the Good Shepherd in New York in 1982. The work was written while I was traveling between South Bend, IN, London, Paris and NYC. Working conditions fluctuated from poor to really sad--depending on where I was staying.  The music is conceived as a single movement that begins with a single note and grows into a driving, massive, rhythmic mountain of intense, amplified, harpsichord sounds.



Night Images was commissioned by the Lake Washington School District, WINDWORKS COMMISSIONS, in Redmond, Washington, Fall 1993. The first movement, titled Dreams is a peaceful lyrical nocturne. The second movement, titled Visions, is a collage of ritual dance images from our most ancient collective memories.



PASSING CHIMES, originally scored for voice and piano, was written in South Bend, IN during the Summer and Autumn of 1980, shortly after the death of my father.. After a year or so I became convinced that a chamber version was needed but it wasn't until the Spring and Summer of 1992 that this version was begun and completed. Both songs deal with the same subject--the bitter - sweetness of death--and both songs are a direct response to the poetry. William Stafford's lines reflect a son's beautiful memories of his father while Dylan Thomas' lines portray a son pleading with his father. While Stafford's poem focuses on the simplicity of the joys of life that he shared with his father, Thomas' moves beyond the immediate to a more urgent, universal sense of man's confrontation with life and with death.



The two poems were commissioned and premiered by the eminent American pianist, Jeffrey Jacob in 1984. Later, Mr. Jacob also recorded the works. As the title indicates the 2 movements are both lyrical thematic works. The first poem establishes a repetitive multi-layered pattern that grows until the theme enters. At that point the work continues in classic sectional style. The second poem is similar to a traditional nocturne.



SPIRALS is conceived as a sound - fantasy inspired by dreams, visions and imaginary journeys through dazzling, beautiful, crystalline, suspended spiral galaxies. The explosion of material in the beginning initiates the core. The material that follows continually evolves and revolves around the core material while simultaneously moving further and further away, drifting into infinity.

SPIRALS was completed in 1979 and premiered by Jeffrey Jacob in Carnegie Recital Hall.



In 1998, the gifted choreographer, Nolan Dennett, at Western Washington University, asked me to write a dance score based on characters from the ancient Tarot card deck. I studied the history and meaning of the Tarot and became fascinated with the many mystical claims that have survived from the most ancient of origins. Later, I extrapolated some of the material, reworked it, and developed a new concept. Each movement is based on a single card from the Major Arcana of the ancient Tarot deck.

The first movement, Magician, creates the wild, sometimes deeply deceptive, sometimes trivially deceptive creative energy of life. The second movement, Moon, is the beauty, the fear, the light of the dark, and the unconscious controller of all life. The third movement, Chariot, signifies a life-force that must first be perceived, then molded and channeled, or it, the warrior, will destroy. The Magician and Moon influence the Chariot.

Tarot: Three Movements from the Major Arcana was first performed and recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra Roger Briggs, conducting 



TRACER is a two-part dance for solo piano and orchestra. The work is a rhythmically wild and relentless perpetual motion machine. The first half emphasizes a struggle between a building rhythmic structure and a lyrical theme. The second half is a crazed maniacal tango that never seems to find relief. The title is taken from an orchestration technique used throughout the work: the piano leads, and the orchestra follows bit by bit slightly behind, creating a tracing effect.

TRACER was commissioned by the eminent American pianist, Jeffrey Jacob, in 1992. Mr. Jacob premiered and recorded the work in Katowice, Poland with Jerzey Swoboda conducting the Silesian Philharmonic.



Trailblazers was one of several works commissioned by the eminent American flutist, Paul Taub, who was commemorating 20 years of wonderful music making in Seattle. I discovered that Paul and I have the exact same birthday- May 28, 1952. In that sense, we are twins. In the Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider and Joost Elffers, this day is designated the 'Day of the Innovative Trailblazer'. I used that image in creating a fast 'blazer' for solo flute.



Triptych was commissioned by the Harpsichordist/Musicologist, Bruce Gustafson in 1980. The work is conceived in 3 movements. The first movement is a textural developmental work flowing seamlessly between precisely noted rhythms and free rhythmic gestures. The second movement is a lyrical, contemplative thematic work. The finale movement is a toccata showpiece unwavering in its insistent, perpetual-motion frenzy. Triptych was awarded 1st Place in the first Alienor International Harpsichord Competition.



Twilight's Last Gleaming was commissioned by Nancy Menk and the Saint Mary's College (Notre Dame) Women's Choir. I wrote the work while in residence at the MacDowell Colony. The text, assembled by me, is a collage of various lines from several religious text, especially the book of Jeremiah in the Bible. The subject matter deals with the superficiality and glitter of a fun loving society while continually pleading for substance. The music is an assembly of musical fragments from many well known American patriotic tunes and the Dies Irae. These are superimposed over layers of 'pop-like' textures and rhythms.