for piano sextet
piano and string quintet
This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.
La Jolla, CA
La Jolla Music Society
Years later, real life touched me again. This time, it was the suicide of the young, gay violinist Tyler Clementi; his desperate response to the relentless bullying of schoolmates. When I mentioned this tragedy to Dennis Tobenski, a composer friend, he said, "But David, did you not know that, in the last six months, four other young, gay men have also committed suicide?" I did not. Then he named each of the other victims, as though they had been dear friends. I was stunned by this—not only by the fact itself, but by the intensity with which my young friend had spoken their names.
At that moment, an arrow seemed to pierce my own heart and I was flooded with painful memories of bullying in grammar and high school. I remembered that awful feeling of being treated as “defective.” I remembered the physical attacks, often in the form of spitballs lobbed at the back of my skull, whenever a teacher turned away. And then I heard on the news or read in a book somewhere the word “bullycide.” I thought the term perfectly encapsulated this new phenomenon: a teenager’s suicide due to bullying.
With such stimulation, I could feel a new piece stirring and I set to composing, finding it unnecessary this time to wait for a poet’s text as inspiration. I would memorialize these events so that their horror could not be forgotten. I would celebrate the lives of the five young men, tracing with music what was and what might have been.
Bullycide was composed in two chunks of time: from November 15, 2010 to February 1, 2011 and from October 14, 2012 to December 12, 2012. The first page of the score bears the inscription "Written in memory of 5 gay teens who committed suicide: Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Zack Harrington and Seth Walsh." The score is dedicated to my mate, Angellos Malefakis.
Bullycide is a piano sextet—that is, a string quartet plus piano and double bass. Schubert’s "Trout" Quintet, Op. 114 served as a model as it has the same instrumentation (minus one violin). Bullycide, in one continuous movement, is divided into two parts. The entire work lasts about 30 minutes.
A few words about the different sections of Bullycide:
Overture: The piece begins with solemn, yet passionate music in a dotted, march-like rhythm. The strings lead the way while the piano interjects. This music reappears at important junctures throughout the piece.
The Cadenza/Fantasy provides an opportunity for the pianist to be a virtuoso; beneath the many flourishes, a new theme is hinted at.
The Grand Fugue in 5 voices is a major point of arrival. The fresh theme, now fully formed, appears as the subject of the fugue. Why five voices? In my mind, each fugal entry represents one of the five lost youths. ("Things in Five" happen again and again in Bullycide.)
The Transition (in 5/8 time) leads to a grand pause.
The Names begins with some melodrama. The strings, playing a ghostly canon in a minor key version of the fugue theme, whisper the names of the five bullycide victims. At the end of each name is the added response "Gone!"
Strangled Voices: Lament and Rage: Throughout this section, the strings are severely muted—"strangled" as it were (using practice mutes). The Lament is lyrical and touching; the Rage, its violent opposite. But because of the "strangled" muting effect, this becomes an almost voiceless rage—a suffocating nightmare.
Dreams for the 5: This section is a potpourri of imagined feelings the five youths might have had if they’d lived. The hyper-romantic opening section leads to the heroic, to the energetic, to the whimsical, and finally to the grandiose, the climax of which is cut short—like their young lives.
In Peace: I end the work with an evocation of that last stage of loss following resignation and acceptance: peace. The music, utterly calm now, winds its way through many different keys. Familiar themes are fleetingly heard, and one last time, the music rises to a climax.
A postscript follows—my quotation (and development) of the "Trout" theme from Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 114. Why end with a humorous, smiling gesture after all the Sturm und Drang? It is my way of saying that—against all odds, absurdly—life does go on!
—David Del Tredici, June 24, 2013
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.