Category Archives: chamber music

Nielsen: Fantasy Pieces, op. 2 (viola and piano)

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)

Fantasistykker, (Fantasy Pieces), op. 2

Originally for oboe and piano
Arranged for viola and piano by Daniel Powers

duration: approx. 6 minutes
Score and part: $25.00
Order through JW Pepper

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Carl Nielsen would be firmly established as Denmark’s most significant composer, but in the late 1880’s he was just another young musician fresh from the Conservatory attempting to make a name for himself.

Nielsen attended the Royal Danish Conservatory from 1884 to 1886, where his principal field of study was the violin. Even though he took composition lessons from Niels Gade, he seems to have only gradually come around to the idea that composition would be his principal occupation. After graduating, he supported himself like most young violinists, giving private lessons and taking any performing opportunities that came his way. Several of his early pieces were performed during these years and were generally well received. His official opus 1, a Suite for Strings, suffered the indignity of having its scheduled premiere bumped by a visiting English composer who finagled the substitution of his own work for the unknown Dane’s. The Suite was premiered in September 1888, a week later than scheduled, and was so well received that one movement, a Waltz, had to be repeated. Nielsen’s career had begun.

Things continued to look up in 1889, when he auditioned for and received a chair in the second violin section of the prestigious Royal Danish Orchestra, where he remained for the next sixteen years. The two Fantasy Pieces for oboe and piano, published in 1890 as Nielsen’s opus 2, owe their existence to the composer’s friendship with two of the orchestra’s oboists, Peter Brøndum and Olivo Krause. Originally designated Andante and Intermezzo, the two pieces were completed in March 1890. They were first performed in September, at a private gathering in Dresden at which Nielsen performed the oboe part on the violin, accompanied by the pianist Victor Bendix. The official premiere, by Krause and Bendix, was to have taken place the following December, but Krause fell ill and could not perform, so the performance was delayed until March 1891, some weeks after the pieces had already been published.

Some twenty years later, Nielsen recalled: “The two oboe pieces are a very early opus. The first – slow –piece gives the oboe the opportunity to sing out its notes quite as beautifully as this instrument can. The second is more humorous, roguish, with an undertone of Nordic nature and forest rustlings in the moonlight.”

The Romance was transcribed for violin by Hans Sitt later that same year, and became popular among violinists even before the oboe version received a second performance. (Nielsen himself performed the Sitt transcription on at least one occasion.)

My transcription for viola includes both pieces. It was possible to follow Nielsen’s original very closely; for the most part, the only changes necessary were to transpose the oboe part down an octave, and to make appropriate modifications to the phrasing and articulation.

Powers: The Rain Is Full Of Ghosts

The Rain Is Full Of Ghosts

Three songs on poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay for mezzo-soprano, viola, and piano

duration: approx. 14 minutes
catalog number VI-RFG31
Purchase at J. W. Pepper; $23.00 score and part

The Rain Is Full Of Ghosts has been recorded by the Chiaroscuro Trio on their debut CD New People. Order the CD from Amazon. Or download from iTunes.

Listen to the second movement.

II. Summer To Your Heart

The Rain Is Full Of Ghosts was commissioned by the Indiana Music Educators Association, and composed during the summer of 2006. The first performance took place that November at Anderson University, by Colleen Davis, mezzo-soprano; Daniel Powers, viola; and Martha Krasnican, piano.

Bach: Suite for Three Violas (after BWV996)

Johann Sebastian Bach

Suite for Three Violas (after the Suite in E minor for Lautenwerke, BWV996)

Arranged by Daniel Powers

duration: approx. 15 minutes
Score and parts: $19.99
Order through JW Pepper

Bach’s autograph manuscript for the BWV996 Suite has never come to light. It is primarily known through a copy made by Bach’s colleague (and cousin) Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748), headed with the description “aufs Lauten Werck,” which was assumed to refer to the lute, making this the earliest of Bach’s handful of compositions for this instrument.

However, “Lautenwerck” is also the name of a keyboard instrument, a type of harpsichord strung with gut instead of wire, resulting in a mellower, lute-like sound. The inventory of Bach’s estate shows that he owned two such instruments at the time of his death; there is also a record that one was purchased in Weimar, built in 1715 by another Bach cousin, Johann Nikolaus Bach.

These factors, together with the fact that the work as written is admirably suited to keyboard technique, lead to the conclusion that the BWV996 Suite was intended from the start as a work for lute-harpsichord (though lutenists and guitarists are understandably reluctant to concede this).

Sometime in early 2013, I happened to hear a performance of the suite on guitar, and before it was over, I had somehow come up with the idea that it might sound nice on three violas. It’s possible that this wouldn’t have occurred to me, were it not for the fact that some months before, I had been present at the 2012 International Viola Congress in Rochester, NY, where I heard several fine viola ensembles perform; so the idea of contributing something to the repertoire had been at the back of my mind for a while.


Powers: Prelude and Bacchanal

Prelude and Bacchanal

for violin, horn, and piano

composed 2003
catalog number H-PB31
duration: approx. 5 minutes
Purchase at J. W. Pepper; $20.00


Prelude and Bacchanal was commissioned by Brian Kilp, my colleague at Indiana State University, with support from the Indiana State University Arts Endowment. It was written in May and June 2003, and first performed in July at the Bangkok Cultural Center in Thailand. The performers were Tan Peng Kow, violin; Brian Kilp, horn; and Eleanor Tan Ai Ling, piano.

The title is pretty much self explanatory. Much of the piece, especially the Bacchanal, is built around six-tone modes, which happened to interest me at the time. The Prelude, marked “Broad and Majestic,” features long stentorian lines in the violin and horn, punctuated by dramatic gestures in the piano. The piano introduces the main theme of the Bacchanal (“Fast, Energetic, Uninhibited”), soon joined by the violin, then the horn, in a long buildup to a frenzied conclusion.


Powers: Cloudscapes


for 6 flutes, alto flute, bass flute

 catalog number H-CS81
duration: approx. 8 minutes
Purchase at JW Pepper; $36.00


Cloudscapes was commissioned by Dr. Joyce Wilson, my colleague at Indiana State University, for the Indiana State University Flute Ensemble. I was requested to write a piece that would be challenging for all the members of the ensemble, and especially to let the alto and bass flutes have their prominent moments. It was composed during early 2009.

I often find inspiration in nature, and the idea of doing a piece based on cloud formations had occurred to me several years previously. In the case of Cloudscapes, inspiration was retroactive; it wasn’t until the first movement was well under way that I recognized an affinity between cirrus clouds and the music I had already written, in that it had something of the wispy and delicate quality about it. Once I realized this, it seemed that the affinity had been there all along, just waiting to be noticed.

Cloudscapes is in two movements, both titled after cloud formations. Cirrus clouds are quite common, seen all over the world. Nacreous clouds, however, are rare. You aren’t likely to see one unless you travel to polar latitudes during winter. They are formed from ice crystals in the stratosphere, as high as 40 miles above the earth’s surface. In appearance, they resemble polished mother-of-pearl, hence the name. Because of their extremely high altitude, they can reflect sunlight from below the horizon before dawn or after dusk, and appear to glow brightly in the night sky. I’ve never seen them, but I imagine they must be an impressive sight.


Powers: Between Spring And Summer

Between Spring and Summer

Saxophone quartet
composed 2005

catalog number H-B1131
duration: approx. 10 minutes
Purchase at J. W. Pepper; $24.00


Between Spring and Summer was commissioned by Cory Barnfield, the soprano saxophonist of the Louisville Saxophone Quartet.

The picturesque title reflects nothing more significant than the fact that most of the early sketches for the quartet were written in late May 2005 (no longer spring but not quite summer yet). The final score of the suite was begun in late June and completed on July 2, and as such, perhaps belongs more to summer than spring.