A Virtual Release

Timbre Cierpke Debuts Digital Release ‘Gullfoss’

The subject of the arts during quarantine has been written about ad nauseam. I’ve found that these articles seldomly tackle the art or music they are tasked with, but instead serve as a cathartic experience for the writer as they sort through the complex web of emotions that accompanies “finding moments of peace amidst these troubled times.” With this in mind I will restrict my mention of the current pandemic to the following sentence: I listened to the virtual release of Timbre Cierpke’s Gullfoss during the lockdown. Moving on.

Timbre Cierpke (photo: Sara Miller)

Nashville’s own Timbre Cierpke is a composer, conductor, harpist, and songwriter who self-identifies as a Romantic Minimalist. Her recent work Gullfoss was written for Alias Chamber Ensemble, SONUS Choir, and Vox Grata Choir. It originally premiered on February 24th, 2019 at Vanderbilt University. The online release, which was recorded and mixed by John Hill, is available for streaming on Bandcamp here: timbre.bandcamp.com. The track runs just over six and a half minutes.

Gullfoss is a water fall located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. Cierpke, upon visiting this natural landmark on a family vacation, felt compelled to write a piece that encapsulated her experience. While I have not visited Iceland personally, I do hold the distinction of having dated two seperate girls who have. One visited the country on a study abroad trip to do scientific research on glaciers. The other visited because her friend found exorbitantly cheap plane tickets and, no doubt, engaged in all manner of debaucherous behavior while exploring her Nordic roots. On both accounts I’ve heard it’s beautiful. This tone poem for string quartet, flute trio, and double choir serves as a convincing third account to the country’s quiet and rugged beauty. In her program notes Cierpke described standing in awe of the flowing waters as the piece began to take shape in her mind. The first section opens with a still but ambiguous chord in the flutes. After a moment female voices begin to add to the tapestry of color. As more notes appear the texture thickens, but the tranquility remains. The sound disperses, and this process is repeated. A quarter of a minute in another brief silence is interrupted by unaccompanied voice, which is followed shortly by flutes and a sudden entrance of the strings. Until this point the female choir has been singing only vowels. The strings initiate the beginning of the text (which was written by the composer and is sung entirely in Icelandic). The text reads:

“I am your heart, You are my blood
Come to me
I am coming, I am falling
Love flows in and out of herself
There is nothing that divides us”

The moment the text enters, Cierpke explains, represents the water at the lowest cascade calling for the water at the top to join it. There is a call and answer section between the female choir and the full choir that culminates near the two minute mark with a grand ensemble moment. This is followed by a rich and satisfying cascade effect in the strings and winds which both evokes the image of the water flooding into the gorge and serves to transition into the next section of the piece. As things settle the mid range of the strings and male voices usher back in a sense of peace. A final pseudo-canon section acts as a bridge to the last moment of the work. The music disappears into the distance.

Cierpke’s talents are on full display in this piece. She certainly has a unique style which comes from her diverse musical background. Elements of folk music, art music, and contemporary music are adeptly woven together toward a clear and concise purpose. The harmonies are pleasing and her proficiency in orchestration is evident.

There is something about waterfalls. Miles and miles of stillness give way to a dramatic change of elevation. The transition can be tough; it can be fast, jarring, and unexpected, but one hopes that after the fall things return to normal. There is a metaphor in there somewhere. I am reminded of the 1968 film Lion in Winter. There is a scene where the main characters are being held prisoner in a dungeon. They hear Henry coming down the stairs to kill them. Richard says: “He’s here. He’ll get no satisfaction out of us. Don’t let him see you beg”. Geoffrey replies “You fool! As if the way one falls down matters!” To which Richard replies “Well, when the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.”

Maybe we all have something to learn from Waterfalls and Timbre Cierkpe’s piece. I encourage you to go online, stream this work, and make a donation if you’re able. It might help you find a moment of peace during these troubled times.

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