A Study Piece for Harlequin

The music for CPT was developed over the course of three years beginning with study pieces - one for Tim Munro (flute) on the character of Harlequin and one for Matthew Duvall (percussion) on the character of Pierrot. Pirouette on a Moon Sliver (2011) for solo flute can be seen here.

Pirouette text

Pirouette program note 

Pirouette on a Moon Sliver performed in 2012 by eighth blackbird flautist Tim Munro at Ganz Hall in Chicago, IL. Video by Dan Nichols.

A Character Study for Piano

Additionally, a recent theater work for solo piano (speak to me) (2010) makes use of techniques further developed in CPT. (speak to me) was commissioned and premiered by Vicki Ray and received subsequent performances by Lisa Kaplan, pianist of eighth blackbird.

(speak to me) text 

(speak to me) program note 

Lisa Kaplan performing Amy Beth Kirsten's (speak to me) at Ganz Hall in Chicago, IL. Video by Dan Nichols.

Commedia: Remnants and Inspiration

Amy Beth Kirsten on how the commedia tradition is at work in CPT:

During the research phase of CPT,  I was directed to several relevant films of the 20th century – most notably Les enfants du paradis (by Marcel Carné), and Sawdust and Tinsel and The Seventh Seal (both by Ingmar Bergman). Although not commedia films per se, each is connected in some way to characters I wanted to develop. I can see now that a few drops of flavor from all three of these films are present in Colombine’s Paradise Theatre, from The Harbinger (our Death-like figure played by Nick) who is an homage both to Bergman’s chess-playing spector in The Seventh Seal as well as to commedia's Fosca; to the “silent playing” in important dramatic moments which, to me, is directly related to a scene in Sawdust where Frost the Clown’s mouth is screaming in silence; to the kind-hearted, untouchable, and at times inaudible Pierrot figure who, in my mind, pays tribute to the great mime Jean-Louis Barrault who immortalizes Pierrot in Les enfants…. So too remnants of actual commedia itself make their way into CPT.

The libretto is inspired by the poetry of Isabella Andreini, a 17th century actress and poet who is best known for her unparalleled performances with one of the most prestigious commedia troupes in Italy and France, the Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi. Also, the concept of the “mask” (some of commedia's stock characters are masked) is at play on several levels in the work, from the set design (covered vs. uncovered), to the costumes (into and out of), to the interchangeable pianists, to the ability of the characters to become the set, and to the way that voice, breath, and text is embedded into the music – which can itself be considered a mask. 

There are other details from the commedia dell’arte that I’ve attempted to include in the music. For example, grommelot is a commedia dell'arte speech technique in which the actor uses unintelligible language that is "made comprehensible by accompanying physical behaviors, tone of voice, and intention. In Commedia [...] it is used when the character cannot or must not or does not wish to speak normally" (Antonio Fava, The Comic Mask in the Commedia dell'Arte). Tim's Harlequin is the character who makes the most use of this concept - especially in scene 9. Our version of grommelot is expanded to include music: unintelligible language is made comprehensible by accompanying music, physical behavior, tone of voice, and intention. And of course the most obvious connection to the historic commedia is the relationship between Colombine, Pierrot, and Harlequin. However, in our work the love triangle has a more spiritual tinge than an earthly one.