..with 'musician' at The Dornburg (Germany) Castle, where Goethe stayed at the end of his life..

Born in Baltimore, Elizabeth R. Austin received her early musical training at The Peabody Conservatory, with Grace N. Cushman providing a thorough grounding in Composition. When Nadia Boulanger visited Goucher College in 1958, she awarded the composer a scholarship at the Conservatoire Americaine in Fontainebleau, France. Dr. Austin taught composition and theory at The Hartt School (U. of Hartford, CT), where she earned a M.M. She and her husband, Gerhard Austin, assisted in establishing a faculty/student exchange between Hartt and the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik Heidelberg- Mannheim. During her Ph.D. studies (University of Connecticut), she won First Prize in the Lipscomb Electronic Music Competition (Nashville, TN). Other awards have included a Connecticut Commission on the Arts grant, First Prize in the IAWM’s 1998 Miriam Gideon Competition, a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio residency, Donne in Musica residency, and American Music Center grants. Performed and broadcast worldwide, Elizabeth Austin’s music has been received with distinction, especially featured on Germany’s Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk. She serves as organist/choir director at St. Paul’s Church, Windham Center. Published by Arsis Press, Tonger Musikverlag, Certosa, and Peer Musik, recorded on the Ravello (Parma) and Leonarda labels, scores are also available through American Composers Alliance. Dr. Teresa Crane, U. Illinois, wrote a dissertation on Austin’s song cycles (2007). Austin’s music is featured in: Women of Influence in Contemporary Music: Nine American Composers by Dr. Michael K. Slayton (Scarecrow Press). The online journal SCOPE featured her music (Winter, 2011), as did The International Alliance for Women in Music Journal (Fall, 2013).

Compositions

Wilderness Symphony (#1)


PDF score

PROGRAM NOTES: WILDERNESS SYMPHONY (#1) (1987) Duration: 19:00 Carl Sandburg’s magnificently graphic poem draws one into a bestiary distinguished by its sense of immediacy and psychological drama. As we conclude a century made infamous more than once by animalistic explosions of violence and cruelty wrought by ‘civilized’ human beings, the lurid chill of this internal menagerie, portrayed in sound, deepens and disturbs. The introductory section of this one-movement set of character variations evokes the mental landscape-habitat, with its own motive of shifting chordal colors. The solo violin, as the “voice crying out in the wilderness”, elicits the main archlike theme of the work, upon which the different ‘animal variations’ are built. The initial climax comes with the appearance of the wolf, the first animal in this instinctual zoo. Two reciters, a man and a woman, narrate and personify Sandburg’s vision, as the first six verses of the poem describe a macabre mob. A ‘heartbeat’ motive suggests a palpable life force, and the altered and overlaid use of various themes from Stravinsky’s Petroushka, one of which is related in melodic contour to the ‘heartbeat’, points up a similarity in such a force. The will to live: pent up, yet ever threatening to burst the bonds of the spirit and to rise to the surface of consciousness, is painted in jagged, angular musical patterns. From a bloodthirsty wolf, we turn to a double-crossing fox, in whose variation the banjo’s bluegrass quote of Foggy Mountain Breakdown is an intentional homage to Sandburg’s love of folklore. From an impersonal hog with snout and belly, we are submerged in the saltwater world of a fish, reaching far back in the annals of time. The unsavory baboon shares a verse with “hawk-eyed”men (an animalistic foreshadowing?) and erotic women, human beings harboring the menace and indifference of the animals depicted here. The soaring “wilderness” theme recurs unadorned in the next variation, but it is paired with its mirror-inversion. Eagle and mockingbird soar together, summoned once again by the claims and wishes of the strong-willed “I”. The final verse places these creatures in a subjective zoo, buried in the shallow grave of the ego: each animal takes a “curtain call” in this reprise-like section. In poetic climax, the “red-valve heart”, through which we hope to achieve transcendence over animalistic urges, is that “something else”, setting us apart. The affirmative but ambivalent grandeur of the “keeper of the zoo” is underscored by the ambivalence of Petroushka’s haunting end. Such is the warning, a musical Mahnmal, a reminder that we have a wilderness within us.