Ritual Observances takes it title from the prologue to the colleted works of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: ?I read somewhere of a shepherd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, ritual observances to the moon to protect his flocks, replied: ?I?d be a damn fool if I didn?t!? These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I?d be adman fool if they weren?t.?
The work was written as my Meet the Composer residency commission for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and was completed on May 29, 1991, although I will confess to some minor tinkering with it after that. It is dedicated to my friend and champion of many years, Leonard Slatkin, and to the memory of Bruce Duncan Collie, a young percussionist who lived in Cleveland.
The music itself contains yet another dedication, to Wolfgang Mozart, my favorite composer. Mozart died two hundred years ago in 1791, and there have been many observances of this in performances of his music. Most conductors and other experts on the music of Mozart seem to agree that Mozart died after composing the first eight measures of the Lacrymosa. In honor of this incomparable master, I chose the material for my entire piece from those first eight measures. In so doing, I attempted to use this material more as motivitic ideas, hoping that what I have managed to do is avoid having the music sound quoted. The three examples shown represent the organizational material for the entire work. The three ideas present themselves constantly during the half hour performance.
Except for the first movement, which takes its title form the Mozart Requiem, the other three movements have titles from Dylan Thomas poetry. The titles are an attempt to characterize the music; the Lacrymosa is a somber adagio which has a huge climax; Genesis? thunder is a noisy scherzo based on the use of alternate fingerings; the third movement, My father?s ghost is climbing in the rain, is a delicately slow one which is somewhat ceremonial in nature and makes use of a couple of ?new? sounds for me; the last movement, entitled Light breaks where no sun shines, is an intense, driving one which is intended to move the work to a dramatic climax.