Concert Archives: Cohen’s “Night Music”

On Feb. 24, 2001, then-music director Warren Cohen led the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere of his own Night Music (Concerto Grosso No. 2) at Tucson’s Berger Center for the Performing Arts.

Cohen writes: “Night Music grew out of a desire to write a piece of music that captured the moment in time when we drift between waking and sleep. I have always found the discombobulated thoughts that occur in this state fascinating, and I have also been intrigued by the way I distort familiar ideas at these times. The ‘familiar ideas,’ here taken from Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, occur and recur in all four movements. Although recognizable, the passages are never quoted accurately. These ideas are interspersed with and sometimes played simultaneously with my own melodic ideas, which vary from soaring melodies to phrases of infantile simplicity. These ideas, like the Beethoven, are subjected to often bizarre orchestration. The concertante group consists of three mallet percussion players, harp and celeste. The delicate sound of these tinkling instruments is a distinctive part of the night atmosphere of the work.

“The first movement begins with Beethoven, rudely interrupted by repeated-note figures, melodic fragments and passagework. Eventually a lyrical theme takes over, but the music dies away before it can develop.”

“The second movement fits the stereotype of night music, where Beethoven is combined with two contrasting themes, one highly chromatic with wide leaps and the other a childlike phrase.”

“The third movement is a minuet that is interrupted by clichés from a silent movie accompaniment. The trio is dominated by Beethoven.”

“The finale begins with many earlier themes occurring at the same time, and is interrupted by another Beethoven theme, not from the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. The  lyrical first movement idea gets to soar in a dreamy context before dying away in a series of thematic reminiscences. Finally, sleep is achieved, and the piece ends peacefully.”

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