Text from Daniel Pearl, the American Jewish reporter beheaded in Pakistan in 2002 and from the book of Daniel in the Bible.
The piece is in four movements using texts from the Biblical book of Daniel for the first and third movements and from the words of Daniel Pearl, the American Jewish reporter, kidnapped and murdered by Islamist extremists in Pakistan in 2002, for the second and fourth movements. The texts/movements are:
I saw a dream.
My name is Daniel Pearl (I'm a Jewish American from Encino, California)
Let the dream fall back on the dreaded
I sure hope Daniel likes my music, when the day is done.
The first text, from the book of Daniel, is spoken by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (modern day Iraq). He is asking Daniel to interpret his dream of terror. Right now it is unfortunately possible to feel a chill of identification with these words.
The second text was spoken by Daniel Pearl while his captors video taped him. I use only the first five words in the music itself since ‘My name is Daniel Pearl’ is so emblematic of this remarkable person. In Jewish tradition, and in many others, names are indicative of character.
The third text is the Biblical Daniel’s response to Nebuchadnezzar.
The last text is a bit of a surprise and is explained by a friend of Daniel Pearl as follows:
‘Once, during a two-day bike trip up the Potomac River, his friend Tom Jennings asked about his belief in an afterlife. “I don’t know,” Danny replied. “I don’t have answers, mainly just questions.” Then he added: “But I sure hope Gabriel likes my music.”
After Danny died, Tom was going through his friend’s vinyl collection (Dvorak, Liszt, Miles Davis, REM) and stumbled across this album: Stuff Smith and the Onyx Club Orchestra. “Danny loved Stuff Smith – a great jazz violinist,” Tom says. “Here on side A, track 3, I found this: Stuff Smith playing ‘I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music.”
I have not used any of the music or lyrics of the song and have even edited the title. The addition of ‘when the day is done’ is my own. I hope Danny would approve.
Musically, Daniel Variations has two related harmonic ground plans. One for the first and third movements using four minor dominant chords a minor third apart in E mi, G mi, Bb mi and C# mi. The other harmonic plan is for the second and fourth movements using four major dominant chords in the relative major keys, G, Bb, Db and E. This gives a darker chromatic harmony to the first and third movements and a more affirmative harmonic underpinning to the second and fourth. Since Daniel Pearl was not only a reporter, but also played the fiddle - particularly jazz and blue grass - the strings take the lead melodically in the second and fourth movements, sometimes doubled by the two clarinets.
The piece is scored for two sopranos and two tenors with two Bb clarinets, four vibes, bass and kick drum, tam-tam, four pianos and string quartet. It is about 30 minutes in duration and was co-commissioned by the Barbican Centre, London, Carnegie Hall in New York, Cité de la Musique in Paris, Casa de Musica in Porto, Portugal and in memory of Daniel Pearl by an anonymous donor in association with Meet The Composer and the Daniel Pearl Foundation which is dedicated to cross cultural understanding and music.
Steve Reich - 2006
This programme note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
“Daniel Variations [is] a haunting work that circles around alternating ideas of celebration and discord, the latter represented literally by the bitter harmonic interval of a second, which nags away somewhere in the score, even when the music attains the quintessentially Reichian qualities of hypnotic rapture.”
“In the most recent pieces Reich has consolidated four decades of invention. Neon-lit textures have given way to dense, dusky landscapes, with tender lyrical passages at the heart of each piece. It’s as if Reich were finally letting himself look back in time, perhaps even indulging a secret Romantic urge. Yet, in the tribute to Daniel Pearl, there is also a new influx of coiled power: fleets of pianos and percussion tap out telegraphic patterns, warning of the next big crash.”
The New Yorker