Chamber Music of Ruth Shaw Wylie
This recording presents five works by the distinguished American composer and teacher Ruth Shaw Wylie (1916-1989). Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, she grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and was educated there and at the Eastman School of Music, where she earned a PhD in composition in 1943. She was a professor of composition and music theory at the University of Missouri, in Columbia (1943-1949), and then at her alma mater, Wayne State University in Detroit (1949-1969). Many of her students have become notable composers themselves. She described herself as "a fairly typical Midwestern composer." Her music was programmed regularly at university concerts, forums, and festivals of new music in Detroit and throughout the Midwest. She was also a pianist, a flutist, and an early innovator in improvised ensemble performance. In 1969 she retired from university teaching to compose full-time. She moved west to Salt Lake City, Utah, and then, in 1973, to Estes Park, Colorado. She was writing music and advising performers up until a short time before her death. Altogether she completed around sixty titles. Wylie composed Wistful Piece and Sonata for Viola and Piano while in residence at the Huntington Hartford Foundation Artists Colony in Rustic Canyon, Pacific Palisades, California. There she also began String Quartet No. 3, completing it while holding a residency in composition and painting at the MacDowell Colony, in Peterborough, New Hampshire. These three works illustrate Wylie's own skillful ways of interpreting American neoclassicism, the leading modernist style of the 1950s. Wistful Piece suggests a mood of yearning or desire tinged with sadness or melancholy. The middle section, marked "gaily," leads to a climactic fortississimo, followed by a reprise of the wistful opening. Sonata for Viola and Piano maintains a neoclassical orientation in it's three-movement structure (fast-slow-fast), sectional forms, chromatically inflected tonalities, and strong rhythmic drive. It also has a deeply emotional, rhapsodic quality. String Quartet No. 3 is contrapuntally ingenious, rhythmically intense, and emotionally reserved. Wylie's technique of combining planal (parallel) intervals is prominent throughout. Each movement begins and ends quietly. Written around thirty years later, November Music (1982) and Flights of Fancy (1984) reflect avant-garde ideas of the 1960s and 1970s. Wylie described Flights of Fancy, commissioned by the noted flutist Doriot Anthony Dwyer, as a portrayal in sound of "the lines, curves, spirals, and arcs found in the natural movements of the visual world and retained fancifully in the mind's eye: flights of birds, cloud patterns, falling wind-blown leaves, and gliding of fish, hoverings and dartings, etc." In November Music Wylie intends to express "the lovely, sad and moody qualities which a misty, dark day in November can sometimes bring." The piece evolves from the piano's initial haunting chord progression, which the cello answers with continuous melodic invention. Wylie wrote the piece for her friend David Tiemeyer, an amateur cellist, so that he and she could play it together without too much difficulty. --Deborah Hayes.