Normally, I don’t write about my music here, but I thought you might be interested to know that I’ve just released a mini-cd of excerpts from The Origin, my evening long celebration of the work and life of Charles Darwin. You can download it from iTunes or order a cd directly from me (if you say you saw this post, I’ll sign it for you for free: just let me know to whom I should address it to).
The excerpts on the CD were written for the amazing female Balkan ensemble Kitka, based in Berkeley, CA. The texts are taken from Darwin’s autobiography, notes, and letters (and in one instance, from his wife’s letters). Unlike the rest of the piece, which deals with Charles’ science, all these pieces are concerned with Charles’ life.
No, I don’t know why I decided to “cast” Charles as a group of women with a background in Balkan folk song, either! But from the moment I first heard Kitka rehearse this music, I felt certain it was the perfect choice. If nothing else, it helps us get away from the stereotypical images of Darwin as the quintessential old, upper-class British twit. Yes, Charles was upper class and British, but he was a young kid - perhaps 29 or 30, or even younger - when he began to formulate the theory of evolution by natural selection, not the old man with the sad eyes who's the iconic Darwin. And Charles was no twit: he loved to party, was quite popular, and had a great sense of humor. His love of life and his abundant playfulness come through in all his work and writings – from the most personal to the most scientific.
The women of Kitka immediately connected to this droll side of Charles, as you’ll find in all their performances here. They also understood his deeply poignant side. Here, in a shortened version of one of the pieces, Annie’s Memorial, Kitka portray a father overwhelmed with grief from the tragic loss of his daughter:
What I hear in Kitka’s portrayal of Darwin is a portrait of a complicated, sensitive, and profoundly great human being - and that, of course, is who Charles Darwin was. It makes me think that perhaps my choice to cross genders - not to mention the English Channel and quite a bit of land! - wasn’t so strange after all…
I hope you enjoy listening to this music as much as I did composing it. .