Clarice Assad

(2014) Godai

Duration: 8 Minutes | For Speaking Pianist

Godai was commissioned for Inna Faliks’s Music/Words recording project, an offshoot of her poetry-music performance series. Composers were asked to write works that used the spoken word in any way they chose. Clarice Assad collaborated with poet Steven Schroeder to create Godai. 

Godai stands for the five elements in the system of Japanese Buddhism – wind, fire, water, earth, and sky.  The programmatic piece is a series of five interconnected sketches with spoken sound effects and two poems. The first movement, Dry Bones (wind), serves as an introduction, with wind-like sound effects and a poem of a dry landscape, where the wind carries leaves. Says  Assad,  “It represents expansion, freedom, movement – hence the breath sounds. Some places are meant to feel like something is about to take flight.”

In the poem of the second movement, “Absence (fire and water),” an author laments about a manuscript lost in a fire. Two forces are at work here – ominous, fiery rhythms and register and transparent light water-like runs.  

The third, Gravity (earth), is reminiscent of sound effects from Noh theater – rattling trills, humming, taps, silences, and lots of textural contrast. While the left-hand octaves march in slow, heavy steps, the quick conversational lines in the right hand and the intermittent trills seem to be fighting gravity to lead into the fourth movement. Ascension ends the set with its whirl of hypnotic repeating 16th note groups and contrasting dynamics.

“A good poem resists being set to music because it is music,” said Robert Frost, and Steve Schroeder’s poems work in parallel with the music here, one illustrating the other.

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