Música, por un tiempo (2008)

Duration:  13 minutes
Clarinet in B-flat, Violin, Cello and Piano 

Commissioned by SOLI Chamber Ensemble
Premiere Performance:  March 16, 2009; San Antonio, TX 
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Música, por un tiempo is a big, strong, passionate piece that pivots between two realms — one serene and pensive, built on a broad melody that Rodríguez pilfered from the bass line of Henry Purcell's song "Music, for a while"; the other a hectic, complex rumba. The Purcell material, which in its original context served mainly to establish the song's harmonic progression, is just a rising series of similar four-note [motives], but when brought to the melodic fore it has a yearning, erotic character, which Rodríguez amplifies and deepens with all manner of textural and coloristic means. The rumba beat, treated to amazing contrapuntal intricacies, raises the erotic temperature to triple digits.

               Mike Greenberg, IncidentLight.com

Primo Premiere.  From its tempestuous opening through its introspective cello passages and on to its fiery Vivace alla rumba, the world premiere of Música, por un Tiempo roused the spirit. The work by San Antonio-born composer Robert X. Rodriguez seethes with contradictions: turbulent, yet comforting; steamy, yet soothing; ornate, yet not at all fussy. It all comes together in almost 20 minutes of intoxicating sound. The rumba-rhythm composition, inspired by Henry Purcell's Baroque song, "Music, for a while," was a powerful masterwork, masterfully played.

               Jennifer Roolf Laster, San Antonio Express-News

Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s “Música, por un Tiempo” (“Music, for a While”) (2008) blends the ground bass from “Music, for a While” — a song by the 17th-century composer Henry Purcell — with the rumba...Polyphony and Latin dance rhythms gracefully overlap in Mr. Rodríguez’s deftly scored three-movement piece. The title also alludes to Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” which uses the same combination of instruments: piano, violin, cello and clarinet.  In the contrapuntal Adagio espressivo, Purcell’s bass line played on the piano meshes with string trills and a dance-inflected clarinet melody, before the concluding “Vivace alla Rumba.”

                  Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times

The very title of Rodríguez’s Música, por un tiempo exemplifies how his compositional mind works – slightly daft, much more than slightly deft, and overflowing with references. The title refers in part to Henry Purcell’s "Music, for a While", whose ground bass provides the new work’s thematic spine, though the line appears in recognizable form only briefly. The work was commissioned as a companion piece to Messiaen’s Quartet, so “tiempo” also alludes to that. The Spanish rendering reflects Rodriguez’s elaboration and deconstruction of Purcell’s bass line into a rumba, often with a high degree of contrapuntal complexity. The three movements are played without pause. The outer two are rollicking, the central one tender, erotic, and meltingly lovely.

                  Mike Greenberg, Classical Voice North America

Composer’s Note:

Música, por un tiempo (2008) was commissioned by the San Antonio-based SOLI Chamber Ensemble for their core instrumentation of clarinet, violin, cello and piano.  SOLI gave the premiere performances on March 16 and 17, 2009.  Like its earlier companion piece, Les Niais Amoureux (1989), for the same instrumentation, Música, por un tiempo combines two widely divergent musical entities.  Here, the ground bass from the song “Music, for a while,” by the 17th-Century English composer Henry Purcell, meets the traditional Latin dance rhythm of the rumba – hence the translation of Purcell’s English title into Spanish. 

I included the word “time/tiempo” in the title in homage to Olivier Messiaen’s monumental Quartet for the End of Time (1941), for the same combination of instruments.  While Messiaen’s quartet evokes a transcendent, eternal state, when “…there shall be time no longer,” (Revelation 10:6), my work, following Dryden’s text for Purcell’s song, instead celebrates individual moments of our fleeting, Earthly time, as those moments are intensified through music: 

Music, for a while doth all our cares beguile,
Wond’ring how your pains were eased and disdaining to be pleased…

There are three movements – fast, slow, fast – in cyclical form, with thematic material carried forward, with variations from one movement to the next.  The first movement, Andantino amoroso, is based on a single melodic/harmonic sequence derived from the first measure of the Purcell.  The six sections gradually rise in pitch, each one a minor third higher, with hints of the rumba rhythm emerging, from time to time, in the accompaniment.  The second movement, Adagio espressivo, is highly contrapuntal, with the short motives of the first movement now extended to create long lyrical lines, often in canon.  At the end of the movement, Purcell’s bass line appears, in the piano, for the first time in its entirety, disguised by trills in the strings and a counter melody in the clarinet.  The finale, Vivace alla rumba, brings the first movement’s rumba hints out into the open, using many of the same themes, but now in a more rhythmic dance-like setting, with each section again rising a minor third higher than the last.  The Purcell theme returns in its complete form twice more in this movement, each time as a kind of “time-out” interlude, in which Purcell’s six-bar phrase, here extended to twelve bars, provides contrast to the driving four-bar rumba phrases.  In the coda, the long lines of the second movement return, with their polyphonic richness, superimposed over the rumba rhythm, as all of the principle themes return for curtain calls before a final flourish.