Hermestänze 2015, 30′

Extended dramatic cycle for violin and piano

Commissioned by Jacob Ashworth

Available from Subito Music

I. Hermes, Messenger of the Gods
II. Zeus
III. Maia
IV. The Lyre
V. Baby Hermes
VI. Styx I
VII. Hermes, Inventor of Music
VIII. Baucis and Philomon
IX. Styx II
X. Prometheus
XI. Pan-Syrinx
XII. Apollo
XIV. Hermes, Messenger of the Gods, reprise

Performance by

Jacob Ashworth, violin; Lee Dionne, piano

In 2013, violinist Jacob Ashworth pin-pointed a serious hole in the violin repertoire:  he went looking for something to match the great piano cycles and song cycles written in the 19th century by Schumann, Schubert etc, and found absolutely nothing comparable for violin.  So he commissioned me, his mother, knowing my passion for character and theatricality in chamber music, to write “a song cycle for violin and piano.”  After much discussion, we settled on the character Hermes, a first rank Greek god of so many parts and responsibilities and tales that an extended batch of movements would be great fun to compose.  Hermestänze is the result.  Directly taking up the model of the Schumann  piano cycle, the fourteen movements depict Hermes (known as Mercury in the Roman tradition,) his extended family of great gods and mortals and a few of the stories in which he figures.  Hermes was the messenger of the gods, and the god of travelers; he was a renowned trickster; he invented music (though his brother Apollo was the god of music) and he invented the first string instrument, the lyre.  But ever recurring was his sacred and compassionate task of escorting the souls of the dead down to the edge of the River Styx, from which they would cross over into Hades.  One of the most complex fellows ever, he has proven to be a perfect subject for a cornucopia of musical tableaux.

“Susan Kander’s cycle for violin and piano, Hermestanze, is a wonderful work on many levels. The 14 short movement titles takes one through the life of Hermes… but more importantly, we become aware of her virtuosic compositional ability to use the range and abilities of the violin and piano. As Hermes was a many faceted character, Ms. Kander uses this work to explore a variety of instrumental sounds (most especially striking in the Lyre movement)…. There is a vital energy to the writing and as each movement came to a close, I looked forward to hearing the next.”

Ani Kavafian, violinist and chamber musician
Artist Member, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Professor of Violin
Yale University.