Feb. 18, 2020
By Izzy Fincher
Meticulously handwritten scores filled the sage colored boxes, stuffed neatly into manila folders. Rustling scores and hummed melodies echoed in the silent library room. In the spring of 2019, I found myself in the Norlin Library’s Special Collections and Archives sifting through countless folders from the George Lynn Collection, entranced by Lynn’s powerful, direct compositional style. Full of excitement, I applied for and later received the 2019 George Lynn Award, funded by the Susan L. Porter Memorial Fund, which has allowed me to present Lynn’s music to the Boulder community. Thus, my journey into the world of Lynn’s music began, amidst the inviting musty smell of well-loved scores.
Composer and conductor George Lynn (1915-1989) taught at the University of Colorado Boulder for two years from 1950-1952. A graduate of Westminster Choir College and Princeton, Lynn conducted, played organ and composed. A prolific composer, Lynn produced 1600 compositions, including 800 choral works, 300 organ pieces, three symphonies, four piano sonatas, two overtures, two operas, five string quartets and many chamber music pieces. After his death, Lynn’s wife Lucile donated his scores to CU Boulder and now his family generously sponsors the annual George Lynn Award.
Despite his large musical output, however, Lynn only composed for voice and traditional orchestral instruments. I found this lack of diversity surprising and at first felt disappointed that no works existed for my instrument, the classical guitar. Thus, I decided to make my own transcriptions, opting for simpler repertoire for wind instruments and piano, rather than Lynn’s complicated piano repertoire. I knew I had to stay realistic about the limits of my instrument, which has only six strings and 19 frets, far fewer than the piano’s 88 keys. In the fall of 2019, I spent long hours trying to read bass clef for bassoon and carefully pruning 10 note piano chords to five or six of the “best” notes.
The four works I chose showcase the diversity of George Lynn’s instrumental works, from atonal to strongly melodic, and also fit the guitar well. I chose two works for solo violin, “Violin alone” and “Deploration,” and several chamber pieces, including “Pastorale” and “Dialogue” from “Six Duets for Flute and Bassoon” and “Cantabile for Oboe and Piano” (ironically transcribed for neither oboe or piano).
In “Pastorale” and “Dialogue,” my duet partner Erika Gossett and I explored intentional gestures and the concept of melodic evolution. These movements rely on set theory, showing Lynn’s influences of atonal composers, such as Arnold Schoenberg. For example, in the “Pastorale” Lynn begins the piece with a series of atonal trichords in the flute’s part, a solid foundation.Then, for the next three minutes, he experiments with this opening gesture, transposing, inverting, complementing and changing it. Likewise, in “Dialogue,” the flute’s introductory motif undergoes transformations as the piece progresses, traded quickly with the guitar part. The melodic metamorphosis is organic, similar to a conversation, where each person builds on the other’s ideas. The repertoire is ideal for chamber music, already an intimate musical dialogue, filled with interactions and reactions.
“Cantabile for Oboe and Piano” showcased a diametrically opposite side of Lynn’s chamber compositions. Elegant, peaceful and more diatonic, this song feels like a lullaby built on a stepwise descending motif. With rolled, dolce chords on the guitar, I am aiming for a gentle character, while Gossett creates a free, legato melodic line on top, imitating the voice of a mother singing her child to sleep.
For the solo repertoire, I explored minimalism and solemnity. “Violin alone” is a sparse, mechanical piece. Like “Pastorale” and “Dialogue,” it transforms an initial melody, though diverges little and repeats many times with slight rhythmic and melodic variations. At first, I struggled to understand the repetition; however, later, I appreciated the overall hypnotic effect. Like many minimalistic pieces, such as works by Steve Reich and Philip Glass, the musical atmosphere is more important than each individual note. By contrast, “Deploration” is motivic and serious, built on a short long rhythmic idea. The piece repeats this idea on different notes, almost like a deploring or nagging parent. Later, short musical topics interrupt the rhythmic pattern, leaving an engaging patchwork that finally returns to the short long in an apologetic, hushed ending.
My duo partner Erika Gossett and I are excited to present our work in a public recital on April 17, 2020 at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church. The opportunity to work with the Lynn collection and to bring his compositions to the classical guitar world has been a unique experience. During this process, I have pushed myself musically to engage with a variety of genres, finding layers of meaning, narrative and intention in Lynn’s music. With these transcriptions of Lynn’s work and the dedication of American Music Research Center and Lynn’s family, hopefully even more musicians can experience Lynn’s distinctive, multifaceted compositions.
In this video, the Ikigai Duo plays George Lynn’s “Cantabile” and “Deploration” remotely, while social distancing. This mini-concert is part of their canceled April 17th concert, "George Lynn—The Minimalist."
Update: Jan. 30, 2023
Izzy Fincher and Kassandra Lopez, a Denver-based flutist, recorded all of these transcriptions at the Broomfield Auditorium in 2022. This project was supported by Christina Lynn-Craig, the daughter of George Lynn. The final videos, released in January 2023, can be viewed on Izzy’s YouTube channel.