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Like Alan Hovhaness and other visionary American composers before and after him, Arthur Farwell maintained a lifelong spiritual veneration of the mountain landscape. Owasco Memories (1899), Symbolist Study no. 6 "Mountain Vision" (1911), The March of Man (1925), The Gods of the Mountain (1928), Sourwood Mountain (1930), In the Tetons (1930), Mountain Song (1931)--each of these works focuses on the mountain as a spiritual metaphor for Divine ascenscion. Mountains too had a strong presence in many of Farwell's dreams. Originally written for chamber ensemble in 1917, The Gods of the Mountain scored for orchestra in 1928 is surely one of Farwell's greatest orchestral efforts. This four movement work was composed as incidental music for the play of the same name by Lord Dunsany. The content of the play revolves around beggars, bemoaning the laziness of the Gods. With the help of some accomplices, the beggars dress up as Gods, fooling the townspeople and are worshipped as Gods. This ultimately angers the true Gods, who come down from the mountain and turn the enthroned beggars to stone. In composing this work Farwell symbolically used various modes, such as the ancient Greek phrygian mode (for its innate ability to express "wildness"), and he derived his own scale, called the "Maya" scale.
WHAT'S IN AN OCTAVE (1930)
What's in an Octave (1930) is a late work for solo piano. Farwell had long viewed the octave as a symbol of the relationship between individual and universal consciousness, which he writes about thoroughly in his intuitive writings. He quoted Pythagoras at the top of the score: "All the knowledge of music is to be found within the octave." And, taking this literally, Farwell composed this entire piece within a single octave between two F's.
Piano Quintet in E Minor, Op. 103 (1938) is a good example of Farwell’s later music. While much of the work is steeped in a lite modernist aesthetic, Farwell brings his unique brand of meditation and experimentalism into the second movement. “The second movement,” Farwell explains in the concert program, “was suggested by listening to a large Chinese gong struck softly but continuously, and noting the musical effects arising from the overtones. There is a continuous iteration of the lowest C of the piano throughout the entire movement.”