Nocturnes, Book 1 by Harold Stover. For organ. General. Difficult. Published by MorningStar Music Publishers (MN.12-128).
The three movements that make up Nocturnes, Book I are programmatic pieces that take as their points of departure a painting, the rhythms of a great city, and a poem.
1. The Starry Night is a written down improvisation based on Vincent van Gogh's famous picture of the same name. The tonal material is a quite literal transformation of the visual elements of the painting: the melismatic cadenzas mirror van Gogh's swirling starlight, and the powerful chords were suggested by the sinister trees that shoot upward to puncture the sky's patterns.
2. Stover's Rag is a product of the ragtime revival of the early 1970s, when many composers tried their hand at writing concert rags. The New York night, which was not without its sinister element in those days, is expressed in an updating of the classic ragtime format. The piece looks backward as well, with the old French Baroque basse de trompette making an appearance in the trio section.
3. The Song of Shadows taps the nostalgic mood typical of the poetry of Walter de la Mare. The poem of the same name pictures a lone musician on a winter night, an dog sleeping before a sinking fire, and, at the end, the spirits that are summoned by music. The opening melody, played on an 8' flute with tremulant, suggests the blues-tinged sound of an alto saxophone, and throughout the movement the organ's capacity for sustained tone is used to suggest and atmosphere of dreamy timelessness.
The pieces were written in 1971 and first performed on July 2, 1972 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, with the composer at the console.