Silverpoint is the first in a series of thirteen duos that I challenged myself to write during the course of 2013. For the instrumentation of these duos, I decided to go in score order through the standard orchestral instruments (minus percussion, but including the saxophone) and pair each instrument with the piano — fairly standard recital pairing.
I began Silverpoint on April 26, 2013 — the day following the premiere of my orchestral work Only Air — at my parents’ house in Kankakee, IL, and finished it at my apartment in Astoria, Queens on May 23rd.
Formally, the piece is fairly free, weaving a handful of musical ideas around one another with different degrees of variation. Like my Duo for Violin & Piano, Silverpoint was written without any extramusical ideas in mind (You Shoot One for flute duo, Letter from a Young Poet for cello and piano, and Fanfare for the Little Green Man for violin duo all started with a non-musical idea and grew from there), and also was title-less until the piece was finished. Because I prefer titles that are more evocative — or provocative — than “Duo for ____& ____”, I spent days wracking my brain for a title that suited the piece I’d just written. I started by flipping through books of poetry by poets I was friends with, then trolled the internet for anything — anything at all — that caught my eye, but to no avail. Finally, I turned my attention to visual artists that I’d met at various artist colonies, and, although I found quite a bit of inspiration there, one word stood out above the rest: silverpoint.
Silverpoint is a drawing technique that dates back centuries, and had its period of greatest use during the Renaissance. Artists using this technique draw using a piece of silver or other metal on a prepared surface, and the oxidization of the metal can create beautiful and unexpected colors days or even weeks after the piece has been finished. I learned about this technique from one of the modern pioneers of its use, Susan Schwalb, who I met at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 2007. I have a great affinity to Susan’s work (as well as to that of her husband, composer Martin Boykan, with whom I once performed an impromptu Winterreise at the VCCA), and looking back at her work I realized that there was a relation between this piece and her metalpoint work in their mutual stillness.
It’s also impossible to overlook the connection between silverpoint and flutes, which tend to be made of silver. (Though I wouldn’t recommend using a flute for silverpoint work!)