for English horn, bassoon, electric guitar, electric bass, piano, percussion
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In 2002, I heard a personal story on NPR about Samuel Morse (1791-1872). Morse, more widely known in the first part of his life as American portrait artist, spent much of his early career touring the east coast and selling his works. In 1825, on one of these tours, his wife suddenly passed away, and, due to the available communication, he received notification several weeks after her burial service. According to the angle of the NPR story, this was the event that led to Morse’s later invention of the telegraph and Morse Code as a means to transfer information immediately.
In 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first telegraphed message from Baltimore to Washington, DC: a bold "What hath God wrought?" The almost instantaneous transfer of information by electricity and the use of a binary system to encrypt data (dots and dashes) was the beginning of our now flourishing information age.
In "What Hath God Wrought" Morse’s message, as dots and dashes, controls every aspect of the composition including the overall form (a series of proportional long and short sections derived from the word "God"), the choice rhythmic patterns (short and long note values), and the construction of pitch material (small and large intervals).
I also attempted to imitate the creation, transfer, and reception of the message. The work begins only with the presentation of the first word and gradually adds more of the message: "What, What Hath, What Hath God, What Hath God Wrought." Each section develops the newly presented word, culminating in the final sections in which performers incessantly repeat the entire coded message.
2004 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer’s Award.
preview score: www.johnmayrose.com/scores/whathath.pdf
a graph of the piece: www.johnmayrose.com/scores/whatgraph.pdf