Eight Songs for Steffen Thomas (2021)

for cello & piano - 31'

1. and if 

2. you are 

3. in a castle 

4. i hear 

5. ray falls 

6. dissolves

7. during 

8. after

This work was written to contribute to the soundtrack for a documentary film about artist Steffen Thomas (1906-1990). Thomas was born in Fürth, Germany and after training in Germany and traveling through the U.S.A., he settled in 1930 in Atlanta, GA. His sculptures—his primary medium—are stunning. His paintings, prints, furniture, and other forms demonstrate his adventurous and curious nature. And his philosophy and personality, it seems, were just as mercurial as his art. I grew up in Atlanta, GA and I would often pass his iconic Trilon sculpture located on the corner of Peachtree and 15th Street, just caddy-corner from the Atlanta Symphony Concert hall, where, in many concerts during high school, my love for classical music flourished.

 

In Spring 2021, I visited the Steffen Thomas Museum of Art just outside Madison, GA and was given a tour by Thomas’ daughter. There was so much to absorb as I sought out inspiration—sculptures, paintings, drawings, engravings, furniture, and more—but one in particular caught my eye. After seeing his four-sided and eight-paneled engraved sculpture called “Eight Songs of Robert Schumann,” I decided to write music for him based around Schumann lieder, which I had been studying. The result is a collection of eight pieces for cello and piano, each one inspired by my time at the keyboard getting to know Schumann’s harmony and voice-leading. I love to take old music and reinvent it, and in this case I found myself drawn towards small passages in Schumann’s piano writing, then elongating those harmonies in a minimalist manner.

 

The Schumann inspiration for each of my eight songs are as follows: 1. and if  (loosely after Schumann, Und wüssten’s die Blumen, die Kleinen, op. 48), 2. you are (loosely after Schumann, Widmung, op .25), 3. in a castle (loosely after Schumann, Auf einer Burg, op. 39), 4. i hear (loosely after Schumann, Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen, op. 48), 5. ray falls (Schumann, Ich grolle nicht, op. 48), 6. dissolves (loosely after Schumann, Hör ich das Liedchen klingen, op. 48), 7. during (loosely after Schumann, Du Ring am meinem Finger, op. 42), & 8. after loosely after Schumann, Die Lotosblume, op. 25).

 

A quote by Thomas, located in his museum outside Madison, has stuck with me: “This world is too small for less than brotherhood, too dangerous for less than truth.

Full recording coming soon. For now, here is movement 6. dissolves, an unedited take from the recording session on May 20, 2021 performed by the amazing Claire Bryant and Phillip Bush and recorded by Jeff Francis.