Sheet Music Review: Checking Out Two Works by Stephen Goss

A CG Online Exclusive. Composer Stephen Goss is so prolific, we can barely keep up with his output. Below, CG writers Chris Dumigan and Derek Hasted review two recently published pieces.



Park of Idols (for Guitar and Cello)
Stephen Goss
Doberman-Yppan (Score and separate parts, 22, 11 and 12 pp. respectively)

‘Difficult’ tributes to Zappa, Metheny and others

Doberman-Yppan seem to be in the process of printing most, if not all, of Stephen Goss’ guitar works, many of which, like this piece, are chamber works involving many combinations of instruments. This six-movement work was written in 2005 as six musical tributes to various artists that the dedicatees of the piece—Richard Hand and Leonid Gorokhov—admired.


The first movement, “Jump Start,” is a tribute to the always idiosyncratic rock guitarist Frank Zappa, and as such has a frenetic opening with much rhythmic diversity, the guitar often strumming unusual chord shapes in a stop/go style of playing that, once the cello part is added, and of itself, is very complex rhythmically, and takes some playing to master. “Cold Dark Matter” is, by contrast, cold and distant and full of long note values, with the guitar playing campanella for much of the time in a very high range.

“Fractured Loop” is similar to the “Zappa” movement in that it is almost chaotic, however based on a Pat Metheny guitar solo, with off-beat rhythmic interjections from the cello. “Malabar Hill”—in 7/4 and dreamily expressive—then links directly into “The Raw,” which is purely for guitar, full of long chords with much dissonance running throughout its quiet calmness. The final movement, “Sharjah,” has some of the wild and almost violent elements of movements 1 and 3, as well as the very unusual feature of the cello being in 12/8 and the guitar in 4/4, with many places where cross-rhythms are used, making it perhaps the hardest movement. It ends on a set of fortissimo strummed chords based on multiple fourths, with the cello sliding around above with a sudden stop at the end of the bar.

This an extremely difficult piece to play. Moreover, there is so much dissonance, it is a piece that is easier to appreciate, rather than enjoy for its harmonies and melodies. That said, Goss’s writings are becoming ever more popular with all sorts of players, and therefore there is obviously a market for this man’s material, however obtuse it might seem at first.   —Chris Dumigan

goss lachrymae

Lachrymae (for Four Guitars)
Stephen Goss
Doberman-Yppan, 10 pp. plus parts

 Dowland pieces are jumping off point for haunting modern work

This is a challenging work, written almost 15 years ago for Goss’ quartet, Tetra, and although it will require a fine group to reproduce this work, it’s a particularly interesting venture. Taking as its inspiration John Dowland’s “I Saw My Lady Weep,” “In Darkness Let Me Dwell,” “Flow My Tears” “Come Heavy Sleep,” and “Lachrymae Pavan,” you may already be feeling depressed at the thought of blending such sad pieces together. But stay with it. A substantial part of the piece is in artificial harmonics, imparting an almost ghostly quality to the counterpoint. Elsewhere, shimmering rubbed chords, marked with a quadruple p give a further dimension to the ethereal quality. The notation is careful to show how many notes ring on inside arpeggios, and there is almost no fingering to show the correct position for these, so some planning is called for. There are patches of awkward rhythm—septuplets for example—but there is space around these, so a small deviation from perfection will not be noticed, as there is nothing to clash against. There are single measures that are to be improvised on a family of harmonics and sometimes the palette includes multiphonic harmonics.

With a certain amount of modern classical guitar music pushing the boundaries of what is feasible, and not always with a life-affirming outcome, this is a curious fusion between modern and medieval, and is delightfully understated in its final form. Though not for many mortals in the world of guitar, it stands almost alone in carving a unique furrow in the field of music, and that alone makes it noteworthy, pardon the pun.  —Derek Hasted