Each of the five movements of my Fantasy Etudes focuses on a particular technical “problem” encountered by the oboist. While composing this work, I was inspired by my memories of working with Mr. Killmer (while a composition major at Eastman in the early 1990s, I had the honor of studying with him), as well as by the four wonderful oboists for whom the work was written. Mr. Killmer has referred to them as “one person with eight legs,” and this image—of a single, gigantic oboist—was perhaps the single most compelling image for me as I imagined this piece.
“Fanfares,” the first of the Etudes, starts from this idea: all four oboists play a single, reiterated note, and only gradually branch off into different directions until four distinct fanfares are heard. The “problem” here, at least at the outset of the movement, is one of blending the four oboes into a single timbre, and it is exacerbated by the fact that this single timbre is bright and the volume quite loud—the oboists all begin forte and with their bells in the air, “come una tromba.”
“Remembrances (Out of Doors),” begins with a canon in three “meters” (4s, 3s, and 2s) based on a long-tone exercise, and later incorporates sounds of nature (birds and insects). The title refers to the fact that every element in this movement is “borrowed” from some other work. The pedal tone (held throughout by the fourth oboe, and necessitating a player that can circular breathe) comes from George Crumbʼs A Haunted Landscape, the long-tone canon from my own Lobiki Variations (a work I wrote in 1995 for my oboe class), the bird sounds from my Soglie, Serenate, Sfere, and the insect sounds from Béla Bartókʼs Out of Doors. Two other works also appear briefly: a tiny fanfare from Beethovenʼs Rage Over a Lost Penny (referencing an idiosyncrasy of one of the present workʼs premiere performers), and a two-chord progression from Mahlerʼs First Symphony, which is at once reminiscent of the movementʼs opening canon and evocative of the out of doors itself, appearing amongst the nature sounds of his symphonyʼs first movement.
“Chromatics” uses a simple chromatic scale as its source material, and the problem in this movement is about playing the scale with absolute smoothness—any hiccups in the scale or even any sense of metric accent would destroy the effect resulting from the piling up of voices as the oboes diminish the distances between their respective starting points.
“Triads” is simple in its construction: each oboist plays a short melody while the rest accompany, senza vibrato, on triads. The accompaniment should sound like a harmonium—perfectly pure—so tuning is this movementʼs problem. The chord progression is of 12 chords and uses all 12 possible intervallic arrangements of the chromatic pitches (so that the players may “practice” tuning every possible triad), and the solo parts join together, one after the other, to create a long, improvisatory melody—almost like a Baroque slow movement (think of the slow movement from the Marcello concerto).
“R.I.P.A.M.R.B.” is a thorough re-working of the ninth articulation etude from Apollon Marie-Rose Barretʼs oboe method. Mr. Killmer assigns all of these etudes to his students, in the printed keys and in one transposition. My version greatly expands Barretʼs etude, melodically and harmonically, beginning in the original key of B-flat and ending in Mr. Killmerʼs recommended key of transposition, B major.