'The Last Possibilities of Light' Ritornello-Variations for Flute and Piano
15 minutes

Flute and Piano

Premiere run with flautist Conor Nelson in 23/24 season, recording July 25/26, 2024.

World premiere: Thursday February 1, 2024, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Conor Nelson, flute, Christopher Taylor, piano.

Program notes: 

The Last Possibilities of Light, written for and dedicated to the American flute virtuoso Conor Nelson, is a variation set loosely based on an elegaic melody, for those we have lost, which returns in ritornello fashion during the course of this 13-minute work.  The title is a phrase from the poet Michael Ondaatje, whose poetry not infrequently sets the stage for my music.  Following the initial statement of this elegy for flute alone, and between returns of the theme in various guises, the music is by turns floating, soaring, cascading, airy and thunderous.  After the final, expansive return of the elegy led by the piano, the music cascades toward the end when the flute ultimately disappears like a ghost.

                                                       - Donald Crockett

Commissioned by Conor Nelson with the support of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Violin Concerto
25 minutes

Co-commissioned by Aspen Music Festival and Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble

World premiere: Spring/Summer 2022: May 24, Oberlin Conservatory and August 20, Aspen Music Festival, David Bowlin, violin solo and Donald Crockett, conductor


Solo Violin

Flute (also Picc), Oboe (also EH), Clarinet, Bass Clarinet (also Clarinet 2), Bassoon

2 Horns, Trumpet, Trombone

2 Percussion



Strings [also available: min. chamber orchestra strings]

Camera Oscura
22 minutes

Instrumentation:  Flute (Piccolo), Oboe (English Horn), Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, Violin, Viola, Violoncello, Double Bass

Program notes: 

Camera Oscura ('darkroom') for nine players was composed in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Summer Music Camp for Can't-Get-Enough-Chamber-Music Aficionados, aka the Chamber Music Conference and Composers' Forum of the East. Over the course of four movements (Fanfares, Songs, Scherzo and Lament), this nonet explores musical kernels imbedded in the names of some of my favorite composers in the rich history of chamber music. (And of course I'm not alone in loving the music of these composers.) I imagine Ansel Adams in his darkroom developing photographic iconography from Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, seeing the images emerge from the acidic bath. These musical evocations are not, however, about style, so for example in the third movement scherzo the names Mozart, Schubert and Brahms generate the material, not their musical styles. The first movement fanfares are made from Martinu, Barber, Stravinsky and Schoenberg; the string accompaniment in the second movement songs comes from the name Britten. Benjamin Britten himself likely wouldn't have chosen these jazzy chords, but carving the subject out of his name did. Though perhaps sounding just a tad arcane, this is a time-honored means of communication by composers across centuries (for example, Schumann's Abegg Variations, Josquin's Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, B-A-C-H and D-S-C-H among myriad others). In addition to the noisy fanfares introduced by the traditional nonet (woodwind quintet + a quartet of strings - violin, viola, cello and bass), there are smaller combinations based on iconic pieces in the rep, for example, oboe quartet, clarinet quintet, Schubert octet, woodwind quintet, string trio, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                           - Donald Crockett

Camera Oscura was commissioned by the Chamber Music Conference and Composers' Forum of the East for its 75th Anniversary Season, with the generous support of Tara Kazak and Fan Tao, and completed in March 2020.  The world premiere took place at the Chamber Music Conference, Colgate University on July 30, 2022 with CMC artist-faculty conducted by the composer.

Piano Sonata 'Red Leaves of Night'
20 minutes

Commissioned by Phillip Bush with support from the Ingeborg Reimer Fund for Creative Projects of the University of South Carolina.

World premiere: Phillip Bush, Here and Now Festival at Bargemusic, Brooklyn, Friday September 2, 2022, 7pm.

'Carving an Alphabet' A Book of Madrigals for Five Cellos

Commissioned for SAKURA by New Music USA.

World Premiere: SAKURA at the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, Colburn Celebrity Series concert at Disney Hall, March 22, 2020, Los Angeles POSTPONED due to COVID-19 pandemic.  Rescheduled for April 27, 2023, Colburn Conservatory Los Angeles.

Instrumentation: Five cellos

Keiser Classical (

Program notes: 

SAKURA cello quintet's core repertoire has included direct transcriptions of Renaissance madrigals in four and five voices

ever since they created the ensemble several years ago. My response to these cello-playing madrigalists is a new book of

madrigals, Carving an Alphabet, composed with the expressivity, virtuosity and hyper-extended range of SAKURA always

in mind. The emotional landscape (lovelorn, passionate, miserable, nature-loving, awestruck, etc.) of the late-16th /early-17th

century madrigal composers and their favorite poets is also reflected here. To help me inhabit the appropriate creative space

I adapted fragments of poetry from two of my own favorite poets, Michael Ondaatje and Czeslaw Milosz, which I use as titles

and scenarios for this collection of madrigals-without-voices. The 'title song,' for example, comes from Michael Ondaatje's

book of poems, Secular Love:

and with the solitude of the air

behind them

carved an alphabet

whose motive was perfect desire

Carving an Alphabet was commissioned for SAKURA by New Music USA for premiere at the 2020 Piatigorsky International

Cello Festival and was completed in summer 2019.

                                                                                                                                 - Donald Crockett

Performance note:

Carving an Alphabet is designed to be performed as a complete book of madrigals

in the order presented here; or, selections in any order can be chosen to fit the needs

of a given concert program.

I. Carving an Alphabet

II. A Flute from the Throat of a Loon

III. Somersaults (in Protospace)

IV. The Night and its Forces

V. Bells of the Sea

VI. Country of Warm Rains

VII. Solitude Is Not An Absolute

VIII. Painting the Variegated World

IX. By Sunrise or the Rising of the Moon

X. The Honey Gatherers

XI. Arcs of the Heart

XII. Carving an Alphabet II

And the River, concerto for duo-pianists and chamber orchestra
18 minutes

Co-commissioned by Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival and Oberlin Sinfonietta
World premiere: HOCKET piano duo and Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, May 12 - 13, 2018, Los Angeles
Grand Piano 4-hands, two toy grand pianos
Flute, Oboe (E.H.), Clarinet, Bass Clarinet (Cl. 2), Bassoon
Horn, Trumpet, Trombone
2 Percussionists
Strings (Double String Quartet and Bass)

Keiser Classical (</p>

Program notes: 

And the River  Concerto for Duo-Pianists and Chamber Orchestra (2018)                                   

Co-commissioned by Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival and Oberlin Sinfonietta

Program note

And the River, a concerto for duo-pianists and chamber orchestra, is at its core both a celebration of HOCKET (Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff) and their unique performance voice as well as a piece in memoriam Steven Stucky, the wonderful composer and close personal friend we lost in February 2016.  During the course of about twenty minutes, the soloists play at the keyboard (piano 4-hands), inside the piano (plucking and harmonics), and on two toy grand pianos.  There is a progression of stage movement built into the piece:  both Sarah and Thomas start at the piano keyboard, then Thomas moves to play inside the piano while Sarah is still at the keyboard; Thomas returns to the keyboard, then goes to the toy piano, then Sarah joins at the other toy grand, and so on.  And the River is significantly about color: in addition to the soloists there are a pair of percussionists playing flower pots, cymbals, tuned cowbells, log drum, etc. with a compact chamber orchestra of woodwinds, brass and strings (double string quartet and bass).  It is also a journey.  The title comes from Thomas Wolfe’s book, Of Time and the River, with this epigraph in the score:

“At that instant he saw, in one blaze of light, the reason why the artist works and lives and has his being...It is to snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic, the congruence of blazing and enchanted images, the essential pattern whence all other things proceed...”

- Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River  

‘The river’ is, of course, a common but important metaphor for the passage of time. The music of And the River is this metaphorical river and the things being carried on it – different kinds of music that may suggest different eras, a reflection on the inevitable passage of time and passage of a life.  There is a fragment from Steven Stucky’s piece The Stars and the Roses (2013) embedded in And the River, a kernel of musical DNA forming the basis for the entire work.  And the River is in part a journey through this fragment of material which I found so deeply moving when conducting The Stars and the Roses for the first time within a month or two of Steve’s death.

And the River is a co-commission with Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival and the Oberlin Sinfonietta, and was completed in March 2018.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       - Donald Crockett

String Quartet No. 4 'Traveling Symphony'
18 minutes

Commissioned by the Caramoor Festival for the Argus Quartet.
World premiere: July 14, 2017 Caramoor Festival, New York

Program notes: 

String Quartet No. 4 Traveling Symphony, commissioned by Caramoor for the Argus Quartet, is in no small part a response to this quartet’s sense of adventure and expressive emotional range.  When the project came in I had been reading several recent end-of-civilization novels including The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  These two books, while quite dark, are full of the resilience of the human spirit.  (In both, the agent of catastrophe is a flu pandemic rather than nuclear Armageddon, making an eventual rebirth of civilization seem possible, however difficult.) 

The quartet unfolds in a single movement of about eighteen minutes, loosely based on plot lines in both novels.  There is a Traveling Symphony in Station Eleven, an assortment of musicians and actors who travel the countryside for decades playing symphonies, jazz and orchestral arrangements of popular music alongside performances of Shakespeare plays, King Lear prominent among them.  This is, of course, highly reminiscent of medieval troupes traveling the countryside in plague-ridden times.  The instrumentation of the Symphony is ad hoc and varied – ‘third cello, second horn, sixth guitar...’ 

In this theatrical and narrative piece, I ask the quartet to do some singing as well as ‘stage whispering’ fragments from King Lear and bits of text derived from Station Eleven.  I imagine the musicians embodying the Traveling Symphony – orchestra, theatre company, itinerant news service, keepers of the flame of culture.  Starting near the beginning of the quartet you will at times hear text fragments interpreted by the instruments closely mimicking the cadence of spoken phrases.

The form of the piece, a collection of scenes, follows this arc:

(i) still, mournful music; (ii) skittery, nervous traveling music; (iii) still, mournful music with intense melodic fragments; (iv) the Traveling Symphony’s overture to a Shakespeare play (quasi-Elizabethan music accompanied by guitars); (v) ‘telling the news’ of catastrophe, led by the cello; (vi) skittery traveling music returns; (vii) a tombeau for the people of the world; (viii) the Traveling Symphony overture returns; (ix) lighting the power grid.

String Quartet No. 4 Traveling Symphony was commissioned by the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, on behalf of the Argus Quartet, for A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century. World Premiere: July 14, 2017 at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts.

                                                                                                            - Donald Crockett

Capriccio II

Two Pianos
First performance: Hocket (Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff), September 15, 2016, Los Angeles

Program notes: 

In 2006 I was commissioned to write a short piano concerto by the University of Southern California for its 125th anniversary.  The result was Capriccio for piano and orchestra, with USC Thornton faculty pianist Norman Krieger as soloist, and myself conducting the Thornton Symphony in a gala concert in Bovard Auditorium on the USC campus.  Over the following decade I had been thinking from time to time about making a version of this Capriccio involving only the piano; then projects would come up and I’d put it on the back burner once again.  In 2015, though, the perfect opportunity arose as my dear friends and former students, composer/pianists Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff, began taking off as a new music piano duo, Hocket.  This piece, Capriccio II, is my gift to them, a champagne bottle broken on the stern of their newly launched cruise get the picture.  Capriccio II is a response to, a rethinking of, the original Capriccio, now for two pianos instead of piano and orchestra.  Melodic material originally presented in orchestral winds now covers the vast expanse of the piano keyboard, hocketing between the two pianos is more overt than the call and response between the piano soloist and orchestra, rhythms are more complex and harmonies more crunchy, concerto-style virtuosity is required of both pianists, and the whole piece is compressed into about nine minutes from the original thirteen.  Various things happen in Capriccio II, often at a fairly dizzying pace.  The overall mood is one of joyous abandon, with fast, rather athletic music surrounding a central chaconne of lyric intensity.  Capriccio II was completed in March, 2016, with premiere performances by Hocket in Fall 2016.

- Donald Crockett

String Quartet No. 3 'Cortege'

Commissioned by the Dilijan Chamber Music Series for the Lark Musical Society.  First performance:  October 16, 2016, Zipper Hall at the Colburn School, Los Angeles, with violinists Movses Pogossian and Martin Beaver, violist Che-Yen Chen and cellist Jonathan Karoly.

Program notes: 

My String Quartet No. 3, Cortege, was commissioned by the Dilijan Chamber Music Series for the Lark Musical Society. It is – behind the notes and rhythms – a reflection on emperors and kings, their works, their passions, and the inevitable passage of time. Our particular king is Artashes (Artaxias I) who ruled Armenia about twenty-two hundred years ago (190 – 160 BC), founded the Armenian capital, Artashat, and abducted his beautiful bride Satenik from across the great Kur river. Satenik bore him six sons before eventually, as the story goes, running off with a descendant of a race of dragons. I was struck by a 19th century painting of the funeral of Artashes by Giuseppe Canella (1788-1847) with its grand and seemingly endless cortege, the wailing throng lining the road, the deceased king borne in state on a royal carriage, all led by regal horsemen and a colorful phalanx of musicians.

The music of this fourteen-minute quartet is divided into five short scenes played without pause:

i. Cortege – ii. Theft – iii. Build – iv. Cortege – v. Farewell

‘Cortege’ is processional music, both majestic and noisy, with a recurring sense of the whole scene disappearing, becoming a mirage. ‘Theft’ has ardent singing lines passed through the quartet from the first violin ultimately down to the cello. ‘Build’ is forthright and clangorous (think of building great works) with bravura cadenzas juxtaposed and overlapped in all instruments. Following a return of the cortege music, ‘Farewell’ is elegiac, tinged with sadness as the principals inevitably fade into silence.

The name ARTASHES is deeply embedded as a musical motto in both pitch and rhythm throughout the piece, presented starkly at the very beginning, only fading – and ultimately disappearing completely – at the very end. At the final double bar in score and parts there appears this quote from Shelley’s famous poem:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

- Donald Crockett

Dance Sonata for Clarinet/Bass Clarinet and Piano

The Dance Sonata for clarinet/bass clarinet and piano has the same solo part as the Dance Concerto, with a solo piano part, not a reduction.

Program notes: 

This Dance Sonata for clarinet in A (doubling bass clarinet) and piano is a version of my Dance Concerto composed in 2013.  Originally written for both soloist + eight instruments (commissioned by Frank M. Hudson and the 21st Century Consort) and soloist + wind ensemble (commissioned by a consortium of twenty-two collegiate wind ensembles), they all riff on the theme of the original version’s premiere at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., 'dancing the night away until dawn.’ The original Dance Concerto is scored for soloist and a miniature band of eight instruments without percussion.  In the version for wind ensemble, which I had in mind from the initial conception of the piece, the band is considerably enlarged to thirty-three musicians including four percussionists.  In this Dance Sonata, which I also had in mind from the beginning, the clarinetist plays the identical music as in the other versions, but the piano plays a ‘real’ part, not at all a piano reduction.  The clarinetist in Dance Sonata plays both clarinet and bass clarinet in this virtuosic, three - movement work.  All three movements are 'dance music,' as if the clarinetist were the leader of some sort of dance band duo on this or another planet, and they play fast music, slow music and music in between.  These are invented dances; the regulars at this particular late-night, cosmopolitan club are very, very good, but even newcomers can join in and dance until the sun comes up.    – Donald Crockett

Dance Concerto for Clarinet/Bass Clarinet and Eight Instruments

Solo Clarinet in A (+ Bass Clarinet), Flute (+ Picc., Alto), Horn, Trombone, Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass
Co-commissioned by Frank Hudson and 21st Century Consort
First performance: April 20, 2013 - Paul Cigan, clarinet and bass clarinet, 21st Century Consort, Christopher Kendall, cond.
Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.

Program notes: 

This concerto for clarinet (doubling bass clarinet) and eight instruments, commissioned by Frank M. Hudson in honor of the teaching and performing career of Donald E. McGinnis, is a Dance Concerto riffing on the theme of its premiere at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 'dancing the night away until dawn.’  The soloist plays both clarinet and bass clarinet in this virtuosic, three - movement chamber concerto.  All three movements are 'dance music,' as if the soloist were the leader of some sort of dance band on this or another planet.  The eight other members of the band play flute (+ piccolo and alto flute), horn, trombone, piano, violin, viola, cello and bass, and they play fast music, slow music and music in between.  These are invented dances; the regulars at this particular late - night, cosmopolitan club are very, very good, but even newcomers can join in and dance until the sun comes up.  Dance Concerto, written mostly during the summer and fall of 2012, was completed in February 2013.  The world premiere, on April 20, 2013 in Washington, D.C., was given by the dedicatees: Paul Cigan, clarinetist, and the 21st Century Consort, Christopher Kendall, artistic director.     - Donald Crockett 

Dance Concerto for Clarinet/Bass Clarinet and Wind Ensemble

Commissioned by a consortium of twenty-two wind ensembles around the country, this version of Dance Concerto has the same solo part as the chamber ensemble version.

First performance:  February 9, 2014 - Stefan Van Sant, clarinet and bass clarinet, USC Thornton Wind Ensemble, H. Robert Reynolds, conductor


Program notes: 

This concerto for clarinet (doubling bass clarinet) and wind ensemble is a Dance Concerto riffing on the theme of its premiere at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 2013, 'dancing the night away until dawn.’ The original version, a co-commission from Frank Hudson and the 21st Century Consort, is scored for soloist and a miniature band of eight instruments without percussion.  In this current version, which I had in mind from the initial conception of the piece, the band is considerably enlarged to a wind ensemble of thirty-three musicians including four percussionists.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the legendary conductor of wind bands, H. Robert Reynolds, for putting together a significant consortium of outstanding wind ensembles to participate in the world premiere run.  The soloist in Dance Concerto plays both clarinet and bass clarinet in this virtuosic, three - movement work.  All three movements are 'dance music,' as if the soloist were the leader of some sort of dance band on this or another planet, and they play fast music, slow music and music in between.  These are invented dances; the regulars at this particular late-night, cosmopolitan club are very, very good, but even newcomers can join in and dance until the sun comes up.     – Donald Crockett            

Viola Concerto
28';;2pc;Pf;Viola solo;Str

Commissioned by JFNMC for Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, cond., Kate Vincent, viola
First performance: February 15, 2013 - BMOP, Gil Rose, cond., Kate Vincent, viola, Boston
Recorded on BMOP Sound CD - Gil Rose, conductor, Kate Vincent, viola

En la Tierra (Concerto in One Movement for Guitar and Orchestra)

Guitar and Orchestra 1.EH.2.1;;2pc;Cel;Guitar solo;Str

First performance: October 2011, USC Thornton Contemporary Music Ensemble, Donald Crockett, cond., Brian Head, guitar, Los Angeles

Program notes: 

En La Tierra, Concerto in One Movement for Guitar and Orchestra, is the third of four in a series of explorations for guitar which I have composed in the past fifteen years or so.  The Falcon’s Eye (1999-2000), a set of twelve preludes for guitar solo, and Winter Variations (2006), an extended fantasia in one movement, precede En La Tierra (2011).  Most recently, Fanfare Studies (2015) was commissioned as the set piece for the Guitar Foundation of America’s 2015 International Concert Artist Competition.  The Falcon’s Eye and Winter Variations are also recorded on Doberman-Yppan by Brian Head, the dedicatee of Winter Variations and the soloist for En La Tierra.  All four of these pieces explore my relationship to the classical guitar, an instrument I studied seriously as a teenager and played regularly through my twenties.  En La Tierra (“On Earth”), in a single movement of about fourteen minutes, is in several clearly delineated sections.  The syncopated repeated-note section which opens the work also closes it, and in between you will hear a lament or two, a gentle allegretto and a scherzo both playful and aggressive.  Throughout the piece the specific, subtle and varied colors of the guitar are juxtaposed with similar and contrasting colors in the small orchestra of wind sextet, two percussion, celesta and strings.  En La Tierra was completed in late-October, 2011, which meant at our initial rehearsals for the premiere the excellent Thornton Edge musicians were reading very wet ink.  An epigraph on the title page of the score is from Pablo Neruda’s wonderful book of poems, Residencia en la Tierra (“Residence on Earth”):  “Well now, what is it made of, that upsurge of doves that exists between night and time…”      - Donald Crockett

to airy thinness beat

Chamber Concerto for Viola and 6 Instruments
Solo Viola, Cl/BsCl, 1Pc, Pf, Vln, Vcl, Db
Commissioned for Firebird Ensemble by the Harvard Musical Association
First performance: October 2009 Kate Vincent and Firebird Ensemble, Boston
Recorded on New World CD - Firebird Ensemble, Jeffrey Means, conductor, Kate Vincent, viola

Program notes: 

The title of this 17-minute chamber concerto for viola and six instruments comes from John Donne’s poem, A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.  Appearing as an epigraph on the title page of the score is this excerpt:

...endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

Like gold to ayery thinnesse beate.

Very early in the compositional process, as usual for me, I worked with soloist Kate Vincent to get a good sense of the viola’s sound world and Kate’s own unique voice as an artist.  Two musical gestures took root early on: soft, intense suspended figures in the extreme high range of the viola contrasted with its open strings and harmonies they generate; and an extended elegiac melody as if literally sung by the soloist.  These musical ideas form the basis of the first movement and a good deal of the third.  They also got Kate and me discussing titles and poetic sources.  Some months earlier we had discovered a shared enthusiasm for Donne’s poetry and this particular poem, so we mined the text for a title.  The words fit to an uncanny degree certain aspects of the music as well as its emotional landscape.

The three-movement design of to airy thinness beat varies from the fast-slow-fast sequence of many concertos.  Here a slow first movement presents the soft, suspended music framing an extended elegiac melody.  A driving middle movement features heavy and somewhat jagged dance rhythms, complete with miniature drum kit, culminating in a final tutti passage initially burying the viola which comes into the clear only at the end.  The third movement presents a sharp juxtaposition of fast, aggressive, even angry music with suddenly very slow and supple lyricism.  At the end some sort of big band appears, driving the music to a climax before the viola disappears, accompanied by single strokes of a suspended cymbal, into resonant silence.

to airy thinness beat was co-commissioned by Firebird Ensemble and the Harvard Musical Association and completed in June, 2009.     - Donald Crockett

Night Scenes

Violin, Cello and Piano
Commissioned by Laguna Beach Live! for the Claremont Trio
First performance: January 2010 The Claremont Trio, Laguna Beach Music Festival

Program notes: 

Night Scenes (2009) Donald Crockett

I.               Scatter the Barbarians

II.             The Blue Guitar

III.            Midnight Train

IV.            Night Hawks

            Night Scenes for piano trio is a look at the cinema in four vignettes.  The movement titles, Scatter the Barbarians, The Blue Guitar, Midnight Train and Night Hawks, are meant to evoke scenes from imaginary movies or very possibly scenes of the movie-goers themselves.  The titles are invented or found objects, not the least of which is the evocation of the famous Hopper painting.  One might say of Night Hawks that perhaps the subjects of the painting inhabit the late show in an old art-cinema house, or maybe the music underscores a scene in a movie about them.  The midnight train is evoked in an ostinato and the violin and cello sing ‘the song of the riders on the midnight train’ using fiddle-like open strings passionately.  The blue guitar accompanies sinuous lines first in the cello, then in the violin, before moving into a kind of Ivesian overlapping of chords.  Perhaps several guitarists showed up and it’s too dark or too late to play together.  Scattering the barbarians in this case requires intricate passagework and sudden noisy chords.  These are just suggestions, though, and I invite you to create your own scenes as the music unfolds.  Night Scenes was commissioned for the Claremont Trio by Laguna Beach Live! and completed in November 2009.    - Donald Crockett

Wet Ink Version for 9 Instruments

2 Flutes, 2 Clarinets, Piano, String Quartet

Written for Ensemble X on the occasion of Steven Stucky's 60th Birthday concert at Cornell University, November 2009.
Recorded on Albany CD - Donald Crockett, conductor.

Program notes: 

The original version of Wet Ink (2008) for violin and piano was commissioned by the San Francisco-based composers’ collective, COMPOSERS INC, for its 25th Anniversary season.  When I was asked by pianist Xak Bjerken of Cornell’s Ensemble X to contribute a piece to the Steven Stucky 60th birthday celebration concert on November 7, 2009, I couldn’t resist making a version of Wet Ink for nine instruments:  2 flutes, 2 clarinets, piano and string quartet.  Steve is a dear friend going back more than twenty years, and he has at times shared with me the ‘ink still wet’ nature of some of his commissions as he turns them in.  Wet Ink is a celebration of ink-not-yet-dry music, freshly made works launched each season by this wonderful composer and friend for several decades and counting.  This version for nine instruments was completed in October, 2009, lasts just a bit over six minutes and is cast in a back-for-another-year (one to grow on) ritornello form.    - Donald Crockett

Wet Ink

Violin and Piano
Recorded on New World CD - Firebird Ensemble

Program notes: 

Wet Ink for violin and piano was commissioned by COMPOSERS INC for its 25th Anniversary Season and completed in 2008.  Of course the title is a play on Composers, Inc., but it also takes note of this intrepid organization’s articles of incorporation, a celebration of ink-not-yet-dry music, freshly made works launched each season for a quarter of a century and counting.  Wet Ink lasts just a bit under seven minutes and is cast in a back-for-another-year ritornello form.     - Donald Crockett

Daglarym/My Mountains

SATB a cappella
Text by Katherine Vincent after Tuvan folk song lyrics
First performance: May 2009 Volti, Robert Geary, cond., Berkeley

Recorded on Innova CD - Volti, Robert Geary, conductor

Program notes: 

            Daglarym/My Mountains was commissioned by Volti, Robert Geary, Artistic Director, for its 30th Anniversary season.  The title is drawn from folk music of Tuva, an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation bordering Mongolia.  The texts, adapted from folk song lyrics by Katherine Vincent, are the fruit of an excursion to Tuva for linguistic and folk song research in which Kate took part.  These brief poems are evocative of the vast expanses of this country through which nomadic tribes of herdsmen move across the landscape in an eternal seasonal cycle.  As a musical basis for the piece I used melodic fragments from folk tunes which the poet and violist, Kate Vincent, notated in her journal, and I also listened to a good deal of Tuvan throat singing on recordings, though I didn’t utilize that technique in this piece.  It was definitely my aim to be musically evocative and to offer many different textures during the course of the work, showing off the suppleness and color of Volti’s singers.  Daglarym/My Mountains was composed during the summer and fall of 2008 and received its premiere performances by Volti in Berkeley, San Francisco and Palo Alto on May 15 - 17, 2009.    - Donald Crockett

Winter Variations

Solo Guitar
Recorded on Doberman-Yppan CD Brian Head
First performance: July 2006 Brian Head, Los Angeles, CA

Program notes: 

I composed Winter Variations (2006) as a complement to The Falcon’s Eye (1999-2000), a set of twelve relatively brief preludes for guitar. Winter Variations, by contrast, is cast in a single movement lasting about twenty minutes.  The inspiration for the piece has two layers: first, it is an extended response to one particular prelude in The Falcon’s Eye entitled Bells in Winter.  The bells are represented by a number of natural harmonics, and a rather lonely melodic idea is prominent.  In Winter Variations the actual bells are different – a set of three widely spaced chords which first appear in measure 48 – and the brief melody used as a theme is different as well. Still, the piece feels to me like an extended soliloquy on that prelude, and to a certain extent on the entire set of preludes in The Falcon’s Eye.  Acknowledgement of the second layer of inspiration is in the titles of both pieces.  There is a poem called Encounter in Czeslaw Milosz’s book of poems called Bells in Winter.  Both titles, of the prelude and the variations, pay homage to this book of poems.  The feel of the poem Encounter - its tone, mood, landscape, language – also affect both pieces, as well as an earlier work I composed for orchestra called Antiphonies.  Here is the poem:

Encounter by Czeslaw Milosz

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.

A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.

One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago.  Today neither of them is alive,

Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going

The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.

I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Winter Variations was completed in the winter of 2006 and is dedicated to guitarist and composer Brian Head.

     - Donald Crockett 

Fanfares & Laments

Orchestra;;2 Pc;Pf;Str
Commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
First performance: April 9, 2005 - Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Kahane, cond., Glendale, California

Program notes: 

            Fanfares & Laments, commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and its commissioning club, Sound Investment, was begun in May, 2004 and completed in January, 2005.  At several points during its composition I had the experience of sharing the work-in-progress with a sizable group of sound investors.  For me these sessions were very unique: fun, scary, exhilarating - you name it.  I would like to offer my gratitude to LACO and Sound Investment for the chance to participate in this adventure.

            Fanfares & Laments is a symphony in one movement for virtuoso orchestra lasting about twenty-five minutes.  It opens with declamatory, fanfare-like music in the higher strings, punctuated by chords in the rest of the orchestra.  An aggressive fast section follows which features syncopated music in the brass; thick, jabbing chords; and, later, overlapping descending scale passages in a trio of violins.  An extended lament for solo violin follows - a slow movement in this compressed symphonic form.  The next large section (the third movement) is a scherzo featuring piccolos, piano and mallet percussion, and later harmonics in the violins and violas, with two kinds of fanfare music in the brass.  After this is a small set of variations.  The theme, a lament, is first presented in a quartet of violas and cellos, passing to piano and mallet percussion before moving to the double reeds and then to the whole orchestra in a series of cascading chords.  The finale begins in a quick tempo, returning to music heard in the first ‘movement’ before ending with a recollection of the violin lament - now in solo bassoon - and fragments of distant fanfares in the brass, all supported by soft, sustained, gentle, elegiac chords in the strings. 

            On a personal level, Fanfares & Laments suggests an individual journey by ‘the hero with a thousand faces’ in these turbulent times.  

            - Donald Crockett


Piano and Orchestra;4,3,3,1;Timp.3pc;Piano solo;Str
Commissioned by the University of Southern California for its 125th Anniversary
First performance: October 6, 2005 - USC Thornton Symphony, Donald Crockett, cond., Norman Krieger, piano, Los Angeles

Program notes: 

            Capriccio for piano and orchestra, commissioned by the University of Southern California for the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1880, was composed during the period March-August of this year.  My Capriccio, which runs about twelve minutes in a single movement, is generally energetic and celebratory in character.  The shape and content of the work were very much inspired by tonight’s soloist, my wonderful colleague and friend at the Thornton School, Norman Krieger.  I sent him sections of the solo part throughout the process, asking for his comments.  It was a great pleasure to hear him read through some of it at the beginning of the summer, which served as more than adequate inspiration (beyond the deadline, of course) to forge ahead with the piece. 

            The Capriccio begins with a melody in horns alternating with the soloist and interspersed with massive chords in the orchestra.  This unfolds for awhile before new, quick material is introduced in the piano, accompanied by a solo string sextet.  For the next several minutes – the first half of the piece or so – melody, chords and quick sixteenth-note music alternate and interact.  A slower chaconne (repeated chord progression) follows, over which the pianist plays very expressive music in multiple layers.  The final section of the piece returns to the fast tempo of the opening and recalls material from the first half, now presented in different layers with a different feel.  Throughout the Capriccio, except in the chaconne, the percussionists are quite active laying down various accompanimental grooves.      - Donald Crockett

The Ceiling of Heaven

Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano
Commissioned by The Chamber Music Conference and Composers' Forum of the East, Monday Evening Concerts of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Xtet
Recorded on Albany CD - Bennington Chamber Music Conference
First performance: July 31, 2004 - Chamber Music Conference of the East, Bennington, Vermont

Program notes: 

The title for The Ceiling of Heaven comes from a Kenneth Rexroth poem called ‘Signature of All Things’:

            …The hawks scream,

Playing together on the ceiling

Of heaven.  The long hours go by.

I think of those who have loved me,

Of all the mountains I have climbed,

Of all the seas I have swum in.

This evokes the natural world – always an inspiration for me – and the notion of a piece ‘in memory of.’   The subtitles of the five movements hint at their content:  I. Distant Fanfares presents declamatory statements featuring the viola and echoed in the other instruments; II. Zenith suggests the sun high in a desert sky – another ceiling of heaven – with a more expressive solo in the viola as its middle section; III. Elegy is an extended, lyric memorial framing a central agitated fast section; IV. Interlude: Processional is a brief valedictory dirge; and V. The Ceiling of Heaven is a rambunctious evocation of those hawks – and all freewheeling beings – ‘playing together on the ceiling of heaven.’ 

The Ceiling of Heaven was commissioned by the Jacob Glick Memorial Endowment Fund of the Bennington Chamber Music Conference, with the assistance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Xtet.  Violist Jacob Glick was a beloved faculty member and Music Director of the Chamber Music Conference for many years, and he was an avid champion of new music throughout his career.

The Ceiling of Heaven was recorded in 2005 for Albany Records with Bennington Chamber Music Conference faculty Renee Jolles, Nicholas Cords, Edward Arron and David Oei on a recording also featuring music of Allen Shawn and many of the wonderful musicians of the CMC faculty.     - Donald Crockett

The Village

Countertenor, 2 Tenors and Baritone
Commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble
First performance: February 23, 2005 - The Hilliard Ensemble, Heidenheim, Germany

Program notes: 

            ‘The Village:  Two Poems of David St. John,’ commissioned by and dedicated to the Hilliard Ensemble, was completed in Spring 2004.  David St. John is a wonderful Los Angeles-based poet who writes compelling poems about landscapes and human love.  The two poems I chose are from a set called ‘Nocturnes & Aubades.’  They create vivid scenes – by turns lighthearted and intense – and very musical glimpses into the emotions of lovers.  In the year before composing this piece I worked closely with the Hilliard Ensemble as the conductor in performances and an ECM recording of music by Stephen Hartke, and I came to know their unique sound very well.  It was a pleasure, then, to compose this piece with the voices of David, Stephen, Rogers and Gordon clearly in my mind’s ear.     - Donald Crockett

Blue Earth

Commissioned by the Charlotte Symphony
First Performance : September 27, 2002 Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Christof Perick, cond., Charlotte

Revised 2013
Recorded on BMOP Sound CD - Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor

The Falcon's Eye

Twelve Preludes for Solo Guitar
First performance: October 2001 Brian Head, Los Angeles

Recorded on Doberman-Yppan CD, Brian Head, guitar

Program notes: 

The Falcon’s Eye (1999-2000) began as a rediscovery after more than twenty years of my own guitar playing.  Though I play these pieces (in private) with varying degrees of success, I have enjoyed the process of learning them nearly as much as the process of composing them.  The titles are small fragments of poetry which evoked for me something essential about each of the preludes.  The poems from which the fragments come were created by Czeslaw Milosz, Michael Ondaatje, Theodore Roethke, Robinson Jeffers, Linda Gregg, Rolf Jacobsen, Wang Wei and Franz Wright.  In case you are wondering, I composed the music first and then searched among the forty or so fragments that I had collected for an especially resonant fit.  A number of my pieces get their titles that way, except I usually choose the title first and compose the music ‘to’ it instead of the other way around.  The preludes can of course be done as a complete set lasting about forty minutes, or one of many possible subsets of the guitarist’s own devising could be performed instead.     - Donald Crockett

Broken Charms

Two Elizabethan Lyrics for Unaccompanied Chorus
SATB a cappella
Texts by Samuel Daniel and Thomas Campion
First performance: April 2002 Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, cond., Los Angeles

Program notes: 

Los Angeles composer Donald Crockett pays homage to the age of the madrigal with his diptych entitled Broken Charms, composed in 2000 for Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.  Subtitled “Two Elizabethan Lyrics for Unaccompanied Chorus,” the work gains inspiration from two period poems about magic.  Care-charmer Sleep, a sonnet by Samuel Daniel, pleads for the spell of ‘sleep’ to keep the speaker away from “day’s disdain.”  The first section, marked “languid and flexible,” sets up a more agitated middle section that paints the poem’s ‘shipwreck’ metaphor with aggressive motives and curt, angular rhythms, before recalling the opening mood.  The second poem in quatrain form, Thrice toss these oaken ashes in the air by Thomas Campion, is a swirl of melodic incantations designed to woo the object of the author’s desire, but to no avail: “In vain are all these charms I can devise.  She hath an art to break them with her eyes.”

                                                                                    - Peter Rutenberg

Whistling in the Dark

Chamber Ensemble
Fl, BsCl, 2Pc, Pf, Vln, Vla, Vcl
Commissioned by the California E.A.R. Unit
Recorded on Albany CD - Xtet
First performance: May 12, 1999 California E.A.R. Unit, Los Angeles

Program notes: 

Whistling in the Dark, completed in February 1999, is a single-movement work of about thirteen minutes duration which I wrote for the California EAR Unit, and it is an homage to their virtuosity and internal sense of time.  The piece is scored for flute, bass clarinet, two percussion, piano, violin and cello.  Several of the percussion instruments – tambourine and sistrum, maracas, clay flower pots, almglocken and log drum – help create a rather folk-like and decidedly west coast California sound.  There is boppy, cheerful piano music which begins Whistling in the Dark that is suddenly transformed into much more aggressive, dissonant stuff.  It is as if you were looking at a two-faced mask with a smile on one side and a grimace on the other.  The slow dance is tinged more with melancholy than romance, a lonely couple dancing at some tropical backwater bar at the end of the world.  There is fast music toward the end of the piece to which I imagined people dressed in Depression-era garb doing aerobics in hell.  The boppy music, however, reappears as if nothing had happened; it remains doggedly optimistic.  Yet there is something lurking just around the corner, just beneath the surface.  There we were at the tail-end of the millennium; weren’t many of us just whistling in the dark?     - Donald Crockett

Horn Quintet 'La Barca'

Horn, Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano
Commissioned by Music from Angel Fire, 1999 supported by The Bruce E. Howden, Jr., American Composers Project
Recorded on Albany CD - Bennington Chamber Music Conference
First performance: August 1999 Music from Angel Fire, Angel Fire, NM

Program notes: 

Horn Quintet ‘La Barca’ was commissioned for the 1999 Music from Angel Fire festival with the generous support of the Bruce E. Howden Jr., American Composers Project.  This is the third ‘water music’ piece which I have written.  The others are ‘to be sung on the water’ (1988) for violin and viola and ‘Wedge’ (1990) for orchestra.  (The Wedge is a famous bodysurfing spot in Southern California.)  This Horn Quintet carries the subtitle ‘La Barca’ (‘the boat’ in Italian) primarily because the entire work, which lasts about 15 minutes, is moving toward a barcarole at the end.  Even ‘la barca’ itself seems to rock on the tongue in the manner of a gondola.  (‘The boat’ just doesn’t cut it.) After a brief opening ‘motto’ featuring stopped horn and muted piano, the character of the extended first section suggests water music:  rocking chords in the string trio and piano accompany an extended lyrical solo in the horn.  This returns in varied form just before the barcarole.  A good deal of the middle of the piece is fast, with the chords of the opening transformed into syncopated rhythms and rapid alternation between strings and piano.  The horn again takes the lead here, as it does in most of the piece.  By way of contrast, some of the piece features slower tempi:  in addition to the ending barcarole there is a slow section in which a sinuous melody in the horn is partially echoed in the strings and reprised in the piano.     - Donald Crockett


Concert Band
Commissioned by the Concert Bands of the Big Ten Universities

Program notes: 

            Island was commissioned by the concert bands of the Big Ten Universities and completed in May, 1998.  Its initial inspiration came from Aldous Huxley’s book of the same name, though the relationship is not at all specific.  Two aspects of the book figure most noticeably in my piece: the setting on a verdant, tropical isle and the difficult lesson of learning how to live in the present moment (“Here and now, boys,” says the colorful parrot).  The verdant landscape is suggested through the use of layers of music which overlap and interweave in a manner analogous to the tangled vines in a jungle.  (Whether it might after all be an urban jungle is open to discussion.)  The principal melody of the piece, introduced in trumpets near the beginning, is my “here and now” music.  Beyond these two aspects of the work one can hear music that is often celebratory in character, as if a raucous party were going on.     - Donald Crockett  


Bassoon solo and 8 instruments
Commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition
Recorded on Albany CD - Xtet
First performance: September 1997 Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Donald  Crockett, cond., Pittsburgh


Cello, Piano and Percussion
Commissioned by Meet the Composer/Arts Endowment Commissioning  Music/USA
First performance: October 15, 1997 The Core Ensemble, MidAmerican Festival of  Contemporary  Music, Bowling Green, Ohio

Recorded on New World CD - Firebird Ensemble

Mickey Finn

Solo Violin
Commissioned by Michelle Makarski
First performance: October 1996 Michelle Makarski, Los Angeles, CA
Recorded on ECM CD - Michelle Makerski

Program notes: 

            The score of mickey finn contains, by way of a brief explanation, the Webster’s definition of the title:  ‘mickey finn [slang], a drink of liquor to which a powerful narcotic or purgative has been added, given to an unsuspecting person.’  By extension, a mickey finn is a double-cross, a sucker punch, a sudden and involuntary change of plans.  This translates into music of mercurial shifts of character, sometimes stark juxtapositions, and a generally vernacular-based language suggesting both American popular music and a hint of folk music from my own ancestors (Scots-Irish).  After the opening sets up a kind of groove that is gradually filled-in, there are several shifts of mood:  a sudden, cadenza-like passage; a chorale consciously related to Bach which returns near the end; a section marked feroce.  ‘Mickey’ is also the nickname of the dedicatee of the piece, Michelle Makarski, and I couldn’t resist the punning title given Mickey’s mercurial spirit both as a person and a musician.  (Happily, she’s not a sucker punch.)  I composed the piece in 1996 at Mickey’s request, and the commission fee was dinner and margaritas at the Paradise Café in Santa Barbara.    - Donald Crockett 

Short Stories

Flute, Viola and Harp
Commissioned by the Debussy Trio
First performance: May 4, 1997 Debussy Trio, Oregon Festival of American  Music, Eugene

Program notes: 

I read a lot:  novels, poetry, short stories, books about music, letters, collected essays by interesting people, the newspapers.  I had for quite awhile been thinking about writing my own set of short stories, but with music instead of words.  Short Stories, which I composed for the Debussy Trio during May-August 1995, is the result.  I have used single words to set the stage for each story: ‘graceful’, ‘fleet’, ‘keening’, etc.  The content of the story – its plot, characters, setting, feel – are left for you to fill in, if you are so inclined.  When composing the music, I imagined a situation where listeners (they tended to be children in my imagination) would compare stories after hearing the music.  As it turns out, a children’s ballet theatre from North Carolina toured with a choreographed version of ‘Short Stories’ a few summers ago.  I was unable to attend, but I would be very interested to see what stories they told.

- Donald Crockett

Short Stories             (1995)

I.               Graceful

II.             Fleet

III.           Keening

IV.           Scurrying

V.             Melancholy

VI.           Scampering

VII.         Jubilant

Roethke Preludes

Commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
First performance: February 2, 1995 Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Christof  Perick, cond., Pasadena

Recorded on Albany CD - Bowling Green Philharmonia, Emily Freeman Brown, conductor

The Cinnamon Peeler

Mezzo soprano and Chamber Ensemble
Text by Michael Ondaatje
Flute (Alto fl.), Clarinet, Viola, Cello, Piano, Mezzo soprano
Commissioned by the Blue Rider Ensemble
Recorded on Eclectra ( Montreal ) CD Blue Rider Ensemble
First performance: February 7, 1994 Xtet, Monday Evening Concerts, Los Angeles


Chamber Orchestra;;Str
Commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
First performance: March 19, 1993 Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Heiichiro Ohyama, cond., Los Angeles

Program notes: 

Antiphonies, commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, is essentially a concerto grosso, somewhat reminiscent of Baroque style and cast in a single 17-minute movement.  The title reflects two important aspects of the piece.  First, it is antiphonal: several musical ideas are tossed about by the various smaller ensembles that make up the whole—double reeds, horns, solo piano, solo strings and tutti strings.  Second, the solo strings introduce an antiphon-like, modal melody fairly near the beginning of the piece.  This melody recurs a number of times and becomes the central idea of the last large section, an extended adagio.  At the very end of the work the music seems to disappear, almost in a puff of smoke.  Czeslaw Milosz, whose poetry I was reading during the composition of Antiphonies, captures the essence of it:

We are riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.

A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road

One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,

Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going

The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.

I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Czeslaw Milosz


from Bells in Winter

                                                            - Donald Crockett


First performance: April 26, 1991 University of Southern California Symphony, Daniel Lewis, cond., Los Angeles

Recorded on BMOP Sound CD - Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor

Ecstatic Songs, Part 1

High Voice and Piano
Text by Walt Whitman, from 'Song of Myself'
Commissioned by Jonathan Mack for the NATS National Convention, 1989
First performance: July 3, 1989 Jonathan Mack, tenor, Vicki Ray, piano, NATS  National Convention, Los Angeles

to be sung on the water

Violin and Viola
Commissioned by Michelle Makarski and Ronald Copes
Recorded on ECM CD Michelle Makarski and Ronald Copes
Recorded on Laurel CD Stanford String Quartet
First performance: March 1989 Michelle Makarski and Ronald Copes, Basel

Program notes: 

‘to be sung on the water’ was written for Michelle Makarski and Ronald Copes and completed in January, 1988.  The title of the piece, which became increasingly insistent during its composition, refers to vocal works of the same name by Franz Schubert and Samuel Barber.  There are no musical references to these earlier pieces, but the sense of the title, of singing on the water, is present throughout.  The music unfolds in a series of stanzas, generally increasing in length, and separated by silence.  though mostly quiet and gentle with both instruments always muted, a more agitated section occurs toward the middle of the work.  Double stops and non-synchronous rhythms predominate (as water images), but the central section features a melody presented as an unaccompanied line.  The piece closes with a return to the shorter phrases of the opening.    

- Donald Crockett


Version for Tenor and 8 Instruments
First performance: October 15, 1985 Jonathan Mack, tenor, the University of  Southern California Contemporary Music Ensemble, Donald Crockett, cond., Los Angeles
Published by Peer-Southern
Theodore Presser Company, agent
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
(215) 525-3636


Tenor and Orchestra;;2Hp;Str
Text from The Greek Anthology, trans. by Kenneth Rexroth
Commissioned by the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra
First performance: May 29, 1979 Pasadena Chamber Orchestra, Robert Duerr,  cond., Jonathan Mack, tenor, Los Angeles
Published by Peer Music Classical
810 Seventh Ave. New York, NY 10019
(212) 265-3910