Opus 40 – The Dryad Arsonist

The Dryad Arsonist (10 Miniatures for 9 Instruments), Op. 40


Date of composition: 2012

Duration (approx.): 11 minutes

Instrumentation: mixed nonet (soprano sax, English horn, bass clarinet, marimba, celesta, harp, violin, viola, violoncello)


  • I-Mysteriously
  • II-Jovial, but bewildered
  • III-Impish, smirking
  • IV-Cheeky
  • V-Rustic, nocturnal
  • VI-Stately, subtly ridiculous
  • VII-Furiously
  • VIII-Delicately, nervously
  • IX-Dank, forlorn
  • X-With bizarre vitality

Program notes:

The Dryad Arsonist began life as a set of three miniatures, composed as part of my final Ph.D. comprehensive exam at the University of Oregon, in May 2012. The veritable “kitchen sink” instrumentation was concocted by my exam committee, to present an orchestrational challenge. As the set was well-received by my committee (I passed the exam on first attempt), and I was still intrigued with the potential for this peculiar grouping of instruments, I decided to further explore it, expanding the set to ten miniatures.

The title is indicative of my interests in absurdism, surrealism, and mythology, and came to me while I was working on the third miniature. While the piece is not intended to be overtly programmatic, I often seek to imbue my works with a vague sense of imagery. Using the title as a starting point, I conceive of the miniatures as a series of loose character sketches, somewhat sarcastically depicting the actions and psychological state of a dryad (a Greek mythological tree nymph), who, inexplicably, happens to be a pyromaniac—a truly absurd (not to mention, self-destructive) notion. From this vantage point, the piece can be interpreted as a sort of snarky critique of nihilism.

Stylistically, the piece is centric and polymodal, and like many of my chamber works of the 2010s, I have attempted to playfully combine aspects of the compositional styles of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, using the unusual instrumentation to highlight some of the more idiosyncratic aspects of their approaches to composition. Each movement revolves around a specific tonal center (all chromatic pitches except B and B-flat are featured as tone centers), and there are certain cyclically-repeated motives, based off related set classes used with frequency by Schoenberg and Stravinsky, which act as idée fixe throughout.

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