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Under the Influence

Flute (and piccolo)

2 Clarinets in Bb

Soprano Saxophone

Alto Saxophone

2 Bassoons

2 Horns in F

Under the InfluenceMichigan State Winds - John Whitwell, conductor
00:00 / 10:47

At some level, all music is about other music. Whether we acknowledge our influences or not, whether we embrace them or rebel against them, all composers must constantly re-evaluate their relationship with the past as they struggle to find their own creative voice. The “influence” referred to in the title of this piece is not alcohol or drugs, but rather a different (yet equally potent) stimulant: the music of Igor Stravinsky.


When John Whitwell asked me to compose a piece for the Michigan State University Chamber Winds, he mentioned Stravinsky’s Octet as a reference point. Coincidentally, the following months saw an extended series of Stravinsky’s works performed at Michigan State. Stravinsky was in the air, and this inspired me to tackle head-on the legacy of this great composer, offering a 21st-century perspective on his now-familiar stylistic innovations.


Along with modernist features such as non-developmental structures and a discontinuity of metrical pulse, one prominent aspect of Stravinsky’s music is simply its ingenuity and wit. Even his most austere works often contain elements of humor or jazz. “Under the Influence” reflects this lighthearted spirit, with its instrumentation modeled after Mozart’s wind serenades (but with saxophones substituting for bassett horns).


Although the astute listener will recognize many subtle allusions to melodic and harmonic material favored by Stravinsky, my goal was not to create a mere pastiche of recognizable tunes, but rather an in-depth exploration of his characteristic manipulations of rhythm, timbre, and phrase structure. My intent was to use the music of Stravinsky in a manner similar to that in which he himself often used the music of earlier composers. In his program notes for The Rake’s Progress, Stravinsky wrote “Can a composer re-use the past and at the same time move in a forward direction? The answer…is yes.” I agree.

When the Bethel University Wind Ensemble (Kansas) performed Under  the Influence in 2013, conductor Timothy Shade remarked, “The students really enjoyed the work, as did the audience. I think the piece is fantastic!” This work has been performed by many collegiate groups including the Florida State University Wind Ensemble, the Wisconsin Winds, the Michigan State University Wind Ensemble, and at Western Illinois University.

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