Rasgos (Sketches) for violin and chamber ensemble, was composed in the late summer and fall of 1992 at the request of Brian Norcross, who asked that I write a concerto for violinist Claire Chan and the Franklin & Marshall College Chamber Music Society. The idea behind the piece was to employ winds, harp and percussion, with the violin playing a prominent solo part, as in a concerto. Initially, I was stumped by the problems the instrumentation posed because I worried that the violin might be overpowered by the winds, and I couldn’t imagine a satisfying blend of the contrasting timbres.
It was only when I was in Madrid the summer of 1992 and had visited the Prado Museum several times, enjoying the sketches of Goya which were on exhibit, that I found a solution. I had just finished a large, thick, complex work for orchestra and I was fascinated by how much Goya conveyed in his often incomplete and always miniature sketches, which employed so few lines. Instead of a concerto, I decided to create a set of fourteen miniature rasgos (sketches) whose individual titles were borrowed from the poetry of Spanish poet Garcia-Lorca. These titles turned out to be more of a direct inspiration than the Goya sketches, because each movement or sketch was inspired not so much by an individual drawing by Goya, but more by the general style of his drawings. Like the music I composed, these drawings seemed to be incomplete studies. Only a small portion of each sketch is completed in any detail; the other portions are left with a few lines to suggest something vague and at times enigmatic. Also like the sketches of Goya, my pieces are very thin in texture, and remain intentionally terse in form and development.
Unlike the piano work Goyescas, by the Spanish composer Granados, which contains six pieces based on particular paintings by the artist, my piece differs in that there is no intended correspondence between each movement and the sketches I viewed. Even though the Spanish sound of Rasgos is sometimes only subliminally present, and may not be obvious to all listeners, I think the fascination and pleasure felt upon experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of Spain for the first time is reflected in the various moods of the work as a whole.
Rasgos has been recorded by violinist Claire Chan with the Concordia Orchestra of New York, conducted by Maron Alsop for the MMC label.
Selected Performances of Rasgos
Premiere: February 28, 1993, Claire Chan, violin, with the F&M Chamber Music Society, Brian Norcross, conductor, Miller Recital Hall, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA