Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2010 Craig Steffee (BMI)

Story

The lower Neuse River as it opens into the Pamlico Sound is several miles wide, and is popular among the sailing community for a day sailing expedition or as an origin or destination for a longer cruise. Winds of the Neuse attempts to capture the generally cooperative but unpredictable character of the wind across this expanse of water. Solo bass trumpet, english horn, alto flute and clarinet offer gentle themes backed by the restrained power of a large string orchestra. I tried to create a texture that might suggest sudden gusts of wind against a generally placid (at times, even doldrum-evoking) background, employing to this end a lushly textured string foundation and superimposed impressionistic elements originating in the other instrument groups, including themes that seem to float through the string backdrop, woodwind trills and occasionally abrupt changes in tempo and/or rhythm pattern for selected ornamental phrases. I chose a bass trumpet as a prominent voice for its uniquely dark tone color. The piece opens with a calm, "breathing" string backdrop and serene melodic fragments in the woodwinds and bass trumpet, which build small degrees of tension that, in the middle section, give way to a more lyrical, defined melody introduced by the alto flute and supported by the strings. Prior to beginning the composition of Winds of the Neuse, I had developed a short piece of similar character, and this fortuitously blended well to became the final section with a simple transition that is my favorite harmonic moment of the piece. Winds of the Neuse was developed using Vienna Instruments virtual instrument articulations early in the composition process, in order to embed their expressive character directly. Given the flowing character of the piece, and its dependence on specific instrument dynamics (for example, extensive use of pfp chords in the strings and ornamental use of woodwind trills) and tone color (particularly of the strings and the unique character of the bass trumpet) for its effect, this was a natural way to work.

Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2010 Craig Steffee (BMI)

Story

New Bern, located on the Neuse River at its junction with the Trent River, is a city of historical significance dating to pre-Revolutionary times. The town was an early capital of the colony of North Carolina, and as such was the site of a provincial Governor's residence that was reconstructed in the mid 20th century and named for its original occupant, Governor William Tryon, as Tryon Palace. The gardens maintained as part of the historic attraction have always been a favorite part of my visits to the site. It is somewhat ironic that Governor Tryon was not known to express any particular interest in horticulture and that the formal gardens bearing his name are likely a modern addition to the residence grounds. This composition began as a quartet for flute and solo strings (violin, viola, cello) but early in its development I chose to add a chamber orchestra to add more weight to alternating sections. Brass and timpani emphasize a regal atmosphere. The association of this music with the image of Tryon Palace was present from its inception.

Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2009 Craig Steffee (BMI)

Story

Heron is, in effect, an aria for solo clarinet accompanied by string orchestra. I feel that the blend of the clarinet melody with the string accompaniment is one of the more effective arrangements in the suite, perhaps by virtue of its understatement. The double bass pizzicato employed at the beginning of this piece is an effect that I associate with one of my favorite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams. The details of the composition were not guided by specific imagery as the piece developed, but in general I pictured a solitary great blue heron in the salt marsh and attempted to portray alternating periods of stillness, graceful movement, jerky steps forward through the water, and swift lunges to capture prey.

Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2009 Craig Steffee (BMI)

Story

Town Dock attempts to capture the easygoing nature of the sailing community, symbolized by the town dock in Oriental where locals and visiting boaters alike are welcome to tie up. The composition unfolds much like a day spent on the water, with a quiet morning departure, periods of pleasant sailing conditions that build to stronger afternoon winds in open water, and the return home in jovial spirits for a quiet end to the day. The sprightly main theme melody introduced by the strings (viola section) and later restated by the oboe d'amore is influenced by Schubert's "Great" Symphony in C Major, D. 944 (second movement).

After a fluttery woodwind opening and introduction with some suggestion of a sea shanty, the lighthearted main theme is stated by the violas against pizzicato cellos and basses and is taken up by the woodwinds and violin sections. A more pensive, reflective second theme is introduced by flute and harp, and this swells with the addition of the full string orchestra. The timpani usher in a heavier, Elgar-inspired restatement of the reflective theme by the full orchestra. Elements of the introduction reappear in the brass choir, and the lighthearted first theme returns, this time led by a solo oboe d'amore that is enjoined by the full orchestra before winding down to a peaceful close.

Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2009 Craig Steffee (BMI)

Story

Nor'easter owes much to the atmosphere captured by Gustav Holst in Mars (The Planets). I began the composition of this piece not with the specific image of a storm in mind, but with the express intent of portraying an ominous mood. The pervasive rhythmic figures and forceful brass are tools to this end. Writing music with a deliberately angry character forced me away from my inherent tendency toward a quieter, introspective emotion. I enjoyed harnessing the dynamic power of the orchestra, unleashing the brass section, and allowing some rhythmic irregularity and dissonance in the chords of the orchestral tutti toward the end of the movement.

Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2009 Craig Steffee (BMI)

Story

The origin of this composition, as a solo piano improvisation, was unique among the pieces comprising the suite in that the piano part was completely written before any accompaniment was added -- in all of the other pieces, much of the arrangement developed concurrently with the melody and harmonic structure as the compositional process marched forward in a linear fashion. I recorded the piano part via MIDI and imported it into notation software (Sibelius), where I added the string and brass arrangement. The piano composition suggested a deeply pensive to frankly sorrowful emotion, although this was not derived from any specific personal event or situation. I wanted to keep the strings, and especially the brass, considerably restrained and maintain a dark tone color.

Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2009 Craig Steffee (BMI)

Story

This is a scherzo that attempts to capture the erratic yet stealthy movement of a pesky mosquito, with a small degree of dissonance to evoke a sense of annoyance. The leaping musical figure at the outset of the piece was the kernel from which it grew. As in Nor'easter, I deliberately sought to go beyond my usual compositional comfort zone and pursue some more dramatic melodic jumps and more adventurous textures. The piece developed in sections, with the opening figures reappearing in the close for cohesion. Once the subject of mosquitoes had occurred to me, adding some somewhat irritating percussive piano figures and dissonances in the symphonic tutti chords felt natural. A "slap" produced by the double bass (an effect that sounds like a percussion instrument) appears twice, first preceding a middle section that has the character of a chase scene, and then rather appropriately in the coda. The placement of the piece within the suite is an extension of the "joke," in that mosquitoes in great numbers often follow a significant rainfall (Nor'easter) after a delay (Intermezzo).

Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2010 Craig Steffee (BMI)
Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2010 Craig Steffee (BMI)
Craig Steffee
0000-00-00
copyright 2010 Craig Steffee (BMI)