The piece takes its title from a poem by Li Bai (c. 700-762), a Chinese poet from the Tang dynasty. The poem, "Viewing the Waterfall at Mount Lu," describes an enormous waterfall at Mount Lu in Kiangsi province:
Sunlight streaming on Incense Stone kindles violet smoke;
far off I watch the waterfall plunge to the long river,
flying waters descending straight three thousand feet,
till I think the Milky Way has tumbled from the ninth height of Heaven.
(trans. Burton Watson)
This poem inspired the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai to design a woodcut depicting Li Bai at the edge of a cliff gazing upon the immense falls while his two young attendants try to keep the inebriated poet from tumbling over the edge. Both the poem and Hokusai's print were the focus as I wrote the piece. The piece is filled with descending lines and rippling, cascading textures. Though there is plenty of activity on the surface, the materials on which the piece is based are quite simple. I took this decorative minimal approach as an homage to Hokusai, whose works are often both ornate and simple at once.
The piece was written for Pia Liptak and Ryuko Mizutani, who gave the premiere performance in Honolulu in February 2007.
available on Duo vio-LINK-oto’s “Taking the Scarlet” CD: