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Arabia Felix

New York Composer's Ensemble


Arabia Felix is a sunny, effervescent sextet for mixed instruments which basks in instrumental virtuosity. The composer has written, "In 1973 for a group called the Composers Ensemble, which was then active. Its members were all composers, and most of them had been students of mine. The instrumentation, of course, suited the ensemble's resources."

At eleven minutes, Arabia Felix can afford to express itself in a single movement, and does so as an elaboration of a skeletal two-voice polyphonic undergirding. Since the instru­ments divide naturally into the sustaining (violin, flute, bassoon) and the ringing (guitar, piano, vibraphone), I treated each of the two trios as a single musical strand. Their lines are ornamented, however, and therefore we hear a more complex surface than the basic two-voice underlay might suggest. There is also expansion and contraction of register going on throughout, first an opening out from high to low, then a closing in, likewise from high to low, and thereafter this way and that - until near the end when the piece turns into a series of transposed reiterations followed by a unison tune to conclude."

Arabia Felix is a quintessential Wuorinen work, bustling with the activity of a Cairo shouk. He savors the sound of each instrument offering ingenious combinations (i.e. plucks on the amplified guitar, combined with stopped notes on the piano and the ringing of the vibraphone set off against the sinuous melodic lines of the violin, bassoon and flute) which combine for a jolly­quirky dance. The Composer's Ensemble, conducted by Peter Lieberson, presented the first performance in Carnegie Recital Hall on 23 February 1974. 

-Howard Stokar, 1993

"Music here becomes a rush of color and madness, ending on a high point of peril with a fast unison melody."  
Paul Gritths, New York Times

"Wuorinen's Arabia Felix-a dazzling display piece which pits the metallic glitter of the guitar, piano and vibraphone against the sustained-note luster of flute, bassoon, and violin-gets the kind of flattering performance that made the Group famous.  In the 11-minute work, Wuorinen seems as fascinated as ever by hard-to-hear intellectual processes, but also willing to write music of attractive surface.  When sinuous, complex threads gradually emerge at the end, they do so with unmistakable glee."-Keynote Magazine, November 1983