Homage to the Breath

Instrumental and Vocal Meditations for Mezzo-soprano and Ten Players

Stephen Jaffe

Text: Thich Nhat Hanh
Duration: 00:26:00
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

"Homage to the Breath" is a three movement composition written for the Twentieth Century Consort, Christopher Kendall, director, in honor of their twenty-fifth anniversary, and commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. Subtitled "Instrumental and Vocal Meditations", the first two movements are instrumental, and the third features a part for a mezzo-soprano.

The three movements are entitled "Running Pulse", "Ostinato Elegaico" and "Homage to the Breath".

As I composed the first movement, "Running Pulse", besides musical images, a few metaphorical ones also occurred to me: getting into a groove, coming out into a clearing, equilibrium and disequilibrium; the pulse that runs and running pulse. The ensemble music is by turns exuberant, rhythmically driven, reflective, and exalted, and features the full group, with extended roles for solo instruments as well.

"Ostinato elegaico" was written in memory of my mother, Elizabeth B. Jaffe. The theme of breath in this movement signifies both vigil and elegy. In the outer sections of the movement, the piano and the percussion (particularly a recurring rattle played on vibraslap, the modern version of the Latin Quijada del asino (Jawbone of an Ass) are featured. Later in the piece, the more plaintive voices of the oboe, flute, horn, and strings are heard more prominently, until the music at last evaporates into its quiet conclusion, again featuring the percussion, this time in bent tones of the vibraphone, like the sound of mourning doves.

The final movement, "Homage to the Breath" draws its text from the Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. The text is an actual meditation exercise from Thay Nhat Hanh?s "The Blooming of the Lotus", entitled, "Looking Inward, Healing". I was inspired to set the text as a kind of vocalise, if not as an exercise in meditation (for which use the written text still exists separately). More fundamentally, there is an affirmation in this text which strikes a tone I was striving for, as if in response to the previous two movements. The mezzo-soprano?s lyrical vocalise is accompanied by the full ensemble, whose music is invented out of motives heard earlier in the piece.

In addition to the mezzo-soprano soloist, "Homage to the Breath" is scored for flute (doubling piccolo), Oboe (doubling on harmonica in the second movement), Clarinets in A and B(, Horn, Percussion (playing some twenty different instruments), Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Bass.

"Homage to the Breath" received its first performances on November 10, 2001, at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C. Christopher Kendall conducted the Twentieth Century Consort, with Milagro Vargas, mezzo-soprano.

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Bringham Young University in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Twentieth Century Consort, Christopher Kendall, Conductor
Composition Date 2001
Orchestration Solo Mezzo-sop.; 1(dbl. Picc.) 1(dbl.Harm) 1 0 - 1 0 0 0; 1Perc. Str. (1 0 1 1 1)
Premiere November 10th, 2001. Milagro Vargas, Mezzo-soprano, Twentieth Century Consort, conducted by Christopher Kendall, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC.


1. Running pulse
2. Ostinato elegiaco
3. Homage to the Breath

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