Joseph Summer, Composer

The Book of Invisible Women – 10 Movement Collection

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The Book of Invisible Women is a collection of ten musically related movements for string quartet. The ten essays are to be played in any combination and in any order. There is no optimal number that should be performed together, nor any optimal sequence. Individual movements are also available for purchase.

  1. Theme and Variations on L
  2. Sycorax
  3. Rosaline
  4. Variations on L: “Where Spain”
  5. Claribel in the Souq
  6. Variations on L and the Missing Queens
  7. Penelope
  8. Variations on L: “Where America”
  9. Selene Lourone, an invisible girl
  10. Variations on L: Ariel Arborescere, the Indies
View Excerpt

Instrumentation

String Quartet

Duration

approximately 79 minutes

Number of Pages (Score)

250

Page Format

Digital PDF (8.5 x 11 inches)

Composer

Joseph Summer

Year Completed

2019-2020

I wanted to write a string quartet that could unfold in many different ways, not in the standard linear collection of one to four (or slightly more) movements. I thought, “what if a quartet could be made in which the performers themselves shaped the work, found their own ‘container’ for the musical material?” I was also at the same time thinking about characters that are mentioned in plays (and other literary forms) but do not appear. Immediately I thought of Sycorax and Claribel, two characters in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, who are instrumental in the unfolding of the plot; and yet neither of which appear in person in the play. I had written short musical motifs for them, which appeared in my opera, The Tempest, and yet, after their minimal appearance, those brief musical moments vanish.

Beginning with the characters Sycorax and Claribel, I constructed two pieces about each of them individually; and consequently, the idea for “The Book of Invisible Women” became clear to me. I would write a musically coherent work of nine movements (later changed to ten), each of which movement would describe a character from literature who was “invisible,” who did not appear within the work in which the character ostensibly exists. Moving forward, I realized that I knew many invisible women characters, but not so many men. It seemed that many authors, including of course Shakespeare, had consigned female characters to air, to merely the words spoken by other imaginary – yet present – characters. What was to be a collection of pieces about invisible characters became a work about invisible women.

I wrote a musical theme to represent all the invisible women in Shakespeare, but then expanded that to represent the invisible woman in literature. I used the theme to tie together all the invisible characters and all the movements This theme metamorphosizes throughout the ten movements, but it also occupies the musical foreground in half the movements. In addition, I also incorporated female characters that appear but are mute, are not permitted to speak, and as well, female characters who speak but are never seen! The many forms of invisibility preoccupied me for the year and a half I spent writing the work.

As I constructed the book, I decided that the shape of it should be malleable, subject to the contemplation and aesthetic desiderata of the performers. Therefor, I wrote the ten movements to be performed in any group, in any order, as chosen by the performing quartet. I have deliberately made the numerical order of the quartets (1, 2, 3 . . . 10) not the “correct” or “ideal” order, but simply an unordered list, a menu. The performing quartet can play any number of movements, and in any order; as they desire. I’m curious to see different versions. I deliberately wrote too many movements and too lengthy a total duration to allow for a quartet to choose to do all ten in order without at least a pause.

Each movement has its own character, and story. Some movements contain the stories of more than one invisible character.

L, represents an unseen Shakespearean character, who I am choosing not to disclose, so as to not imprison her in one shape. For me, L represents more than just herself, but rather, L describes Shakespeare’s disesteem for so many female characters he excludes from the stage.

Sycorax, an Algerian sorceress, banished to the isle which serves as the setting for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, lays claim to the realm, imprisoning Ariel and enslaving the indigenous “spirit” inhabitants. She rules with unstinting cruelty until her death. After her passing, Caliban, Sycorax’s son, expects to rule in her place; but when Prospero arrives – following his own banishment from Naples – the deposed Duke of Milan turns the tables on Caliban, forcing the brute into servitude. Postcolonial interpretations of Sycorax portray her as representative of silenced African women, or as a symbol of repressed Islamic culture. Sycorax, as representative of oppressed indigenous Caribs rings hollow, as she was a more malefic colonizer than Prospero. My portrayal of Sycorax is not revisionist. She’s a pernicious demoness, mother of a rapacious miscreant.

My mentor, Richard Hoffmann, Schoenberg’s amanuensis, demanded that every note I write be rational; no improvising, no playing at the piano to find something I “liked.” Accepting Hoffmann’s rationalism, but not his solution, his teacher’s solution; serial techniques inform my craft.

The Tempest was written by at least two authors, Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Fletcher’s contributions are evident in his preferred poetic meter of paired lines of seven syllables. Shakespeare employed iambic pentameter: ten syllables per line of text, stressed alternately.

Sycorax begins with viola, restricted to five pitches, (C,D,E-flat, F, and G). The cello enters, restricted to five pitches (D-flat, F-flat, G-flat, A-flat, and B-flat). The viola bows, which stresses the string. The cellist plucks, which causes the pitch to sound once the string is released, unstressed. Together the pair represent the stressed and unstressed alternation of the bard’s iambic pentameter. They play their pentameral pitches in paired measures of 7/4; the 7/4 meter representing Fletcher’s metric modus operandi of paired seven syllable lines. The first forty-nine measures are a discussion about the relative contributions of Shakespeare and Fletcher to the Tempest. The entrance of the violins at measure fifty initiates a discussion between Hoffmann and myself about my rogue serial praxis.

Rosaline is the niece of Lord Capulet. In the play Romeo and Juliet, by Shakespeare, Romeo’s unrequited love for Rosaline leads him to hide his identity in order to meet her at the Capulet fete, at which event he first eyes Juliet. Subsequently, Rosaline no longer occupies his mind, nor ours.

Claribel is King Alonso of Naples’ daughter, sister to Ferdinand; in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Prior to the beginning of the play, Claribel has been married to the King of Tunis. The characters Alonso, Sebastian, Ferdinand, Antonio, and Gonzalo are shipwrecked on Prospero’s enchanted isle on their way home from the wedding in Africa. In this movement I describe Claribel’s first visit to a market in Tunis, where she sees for the first time in her life the many theretofore unimaginable sights and sounds of the Arab world.

The Missing Queens of the sixth movement (VI: Variations on L and the Missing Queens) are the murdered queens of Henry VIII, that Shakespeare deliberately hides from view in his fawning historical play. I employ music that Henry wrote, his “Pastime with Good Company” as an ironic counterpoint to the bad company he was for his victims. The lack of violence depicted in the movement is meant to reflect the way that Shakespeare “disappeared” the queens, without any sense of empathy or truth. (The movement does not begin with the queens, which is also meant to mirror the way Shakespeare eschews the early and late period of Henry’s reign, focusing instead on one short portion of his life which is not colored by his cruelties, much as his music displays no depth nor contemplation of anything but the façade of royal carefree playfulness.)

Penelope is the abandoned wife of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca. Leaving Penelope with their first and only son, Telemachus; Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan war; and engages in numerous adventures, misadventures, and infidelities; while Penelope waits, faithfully, for twenty years for his return. While our world’s first known author, Homer, describes Odysseues’ exploits in detail in the two epic poems that are the foundation for Western Civilization; Penelope sits in the shadows of Homer’s mind, until the final stanzas, and though not invisible entirely, is such throughout most of the saga that began the literary world.

Selene Lourone is my invisible girl. After the summer between fourth and fifth grade, upon returning to school, I found the attentions of my girlfriend, Lynn, severely lacking in depth. I could sense that our quondam love was in jeopardy.

I realized I needed to do something to regain her affection and I bethought of a plan. I required assistance, so I approached a girl who attended a different school, and was a year younger than myself. I needed her help but I also needed secrecy. That she went to a different school (Wightman) than Lynn and I attended (Colfax) meant that in the likelihood that she spilled the beans, her story, true as it would be, would not reach Lynn’s ears. I asked my Wightman friend, “M,” to help me win back the love of Lynn. Being upfront about the plot ensured she would help, and – as well – wouldn’t be inutile should my plan in regard Lynn fail.

The plot was this: I wanted a gentle love note, written to me, on some girly stationery (with matching envelope) from an admirer. I drafted a letter and asked “M” to copy my letter on to her very appropriately feminine stationery. “M” was happy to oblige. I took the letter, in matching envelope, and brought it to Colfax.

During morning classes I would quietly open my desk top a couple inches and take surreptitious glances inside; then close the top, and continue to participate in our class activities. Of course, as planned, my repeated consultations with the inside of my desk caught Lynn’s attention. At lunch, Lynn approached me and asked me what I was looking at in my desk. I claimed I wasn’t looking at anything, that there was nothing in my desk but for my books. Lynn insisted I was not telling the truth, that she saw me repeatedly look inside. She demanded to know the truth. I told her there was “in truth, nothing inside my desk that would interest her.” She walked, with urgency to my desk, as I had hoped. As she went to open the desk I feigned an attempt to prevent her, and as I “failed” to stop her she threw it open and seized upon the pink bordered envelope with its partially concealed epistle.

I pleaded with her to give it back to me, that it wasn’t her business, and she turned away from me, so that I couldn’t see her face, only her long blonde hair, tied in a pony tail, and she read the letter I’d crafted myself (but in M’s hand) , which spoke warmly of a shared moment, and which was signed “Selene Lourone.” Lynn was annoyed, and interrogated me about Selene. I explained (and had planned the tale in advance) that Selene was from France, and she was vacationing at Lake Erie, on Presque Isle, at the same time that I was. We had struck up a friendship there, and for two weeks enjoyed one another’s company as ten year olds would. Alas, she had to return to France, but we were now pen pals.

The lack of a canceled French stamp should have revealed the lie to Lynn, but she either failed to perform her due diligence in regard verifying the verisimilitude of my story, or she didn’t care to. Whatever the case, Lynn reacquired her love for me, at least for the semester, before – once again – slowly losing interest in me.

The name Selene Lourone was derived from the Greek goddess of the moon, Selene; which I combined with the sound of Lynn’s name. When I was a boy I loved the D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths book, and have been forever influenced by it. The myth of Selene and Endymion captured me, and the image of the sleeping Endymion and the adoring Selene in the D’Aulaire has always stayed with me. Selene is the Invisible Woman.

Ariel Arboresce of the tenth movement (X: Ariel Arborescere, the Indies) is the Ariel of my opera “The Tempest” who lives, imprisoned by Sycorax, for years, within the trunk of a tree, until freed by Prospero, when he arrives on the fabulous island, an island somewhere in the West Indies. Though Prospero frees Ariel, he nevertheless keeps the spirit prisoner, until all of his plans have been realized and he can return to his previous existence in Europe, as the duke of Milan. Not only does Prospero enslave Ariel, but Ariel is invisible to all of the mortal characters in the play, but for Prospero himself.

Individual Movements from The Book of Invisible Women

Follow the links below to purchase individual movements from The Book of Invisible Women.

  • String Quartet

    Duration: approximately 12'

  • String Quartet

    Duration: approximately 14'

  • String Quartet

    Duration: approximately 3'

  • String Quartet

    Duration: approximately 9’

  • String Quartet

    Duration: approximately 12'

  • String Quartet

    Duration: approximately 6’20”

  • String Quartet

    Duration: approximately 6 minutes

  • String Quartet

    Duration: 4'30"

  • String Quartet

    Duration: 5'30"

  • String Quartet

    Duration: approximately 6'

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