Home / Compositions / Archaeopteryx


bass trb solo,3fl(picc),2cl(bcl),2hrn,tba,mar,pf
7/7/1978 - 11/12/1978
for David Taylor

"Wuorinen draws fascinating sounds from this unusual combination, which irresistibly suggests a flapping prehistoric bird soaring into flight." New York Magazine "Archaeopteryx possesses a snarling beauty, a near theatrical sense of drama." New York Times "It begins with scrappy, punchy sounds, and then the soloist embarks on short flights, some which inspire cadenza exchanges with members of the ensemble (three flutes, two clarinets, two horns, tuba, piano and marimba). Sustained melodies alternate with skittering and dithering. Eventually, the music 'fossilizes' (as the archaeopteryx did). Hard bright stratified chords made a strange new sound that has continued to haunt me." Andrew Porter, The New Yorker

“Charles Wuorinen's Archaeopteryx, the world premiere of which at the Caramoor Festival last month was the peg of this discussion, works on more than one level. Composed in 1978 as a virtuosity-demanding chamber concerto for the classical and jazz bass trombonist David Taylor, it also stands as one of the less thorny examples of Wuorinen's fastidiousness in designing and balancing intricately related figures in a musical carpet. Furthermore, it is an engagingly witty work from a composer one tends to classify as "serious" and subclassify as "unbending" and "down-right Calvinist." The wit, however, is an established feature of Wuorinen's musical personality for those reasonably familiar with his output over the years, especially recent years, during which the composer seems to have felt less compelled to feed as much mental activity into his scores as they would bear. The wit begins with the rather wry title, which is the name of a prehistoric bird with reptilian characteristics. Indeed, the trombone solos, and those of the other 10 musicians, often soar to the top of their ranges and skitter down and around again. The bass trombone, in fact, seems to aspire to the heights more than any of the other instruments, although its range precludes much success. Yet the slitherings and grunts down below are amusingly persistent, especially when set off by assorted stutterings and yelpings in the higher voices. The piece's close is particularly satisfying: the 10 supporting players pound out a rich, wide, nearly consonant chord 12 times, to which the bass trombone responds by starting a quick diatonic dance on a C-B-G motif and then traces a soft three-octave arc on F-sharp, concurred in by various other players, but not the marimbist, who raps out a C and thus sneaks in the good old academic tritone.” Leighton Kerner Village Voice