Twilight Colors is a double trio for woodwinds and strings, specifically for flute, oboe and clarinet in one trio; and violin, viola and cello in the other. The woodwind trio is by itself a double trio with some movements written for alto flute, English horn and bass clarinet played by the same performers as a separate entity. Therefore the movements of the work consist of a string trio with combinations of one of the two woodwind trios, which offers changing color combinations from movement to movement.
This piece is inspired by the exceptional colors of the changing sky over the Hudson River Valley, which attracted American painters who initiated a school of true landscape painting not dominated by the human figure. The texture of the twilight sky, with its rich monochromatic hues, tranquility devoid of sharp contrasts and streaks of parallel yet non-parallel lights, undergoes a subtle and continual change. This process of transformation in nature is reflected in the multi-linear texture, timbre, harmony and rhythm of the music, and becomes apparent only after the composition was well underway.
In conceiving the piece, I was influenced by the Chinese brush painters of the early 17th century who adopted fundamental brush stroke techniques from Chinese calligraphy to develop a landscape painting technique based on subtle brushstrokes and their sophisticated organization. The result was an extremely terse and abstract expression of the subject portrayed, and conceivably anticipated much of the abstract and the expressionist development in Western painting of the 20th century, which presumably evolved out of a different aesthetic orientation.
Twilight Colors is a series of vignettes in four movements, each with a descriptive phrase: “in the darkness, a thread of light,” “through the clouds, colors of dawn,” “trees and rocks in the mist,” and “over the horizon, mountain peaks rising;” and a coda, “their silhouettes neither parallel nor contrary.”
Twilight Colors was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation and dedicated to the fond memory of Olga Koussevitzky.
By Chou Wen-chung