Que me veut le chevalier ? (2016)

Que me veut le chevalier ?
Rebecca Jeffreys, flutes
Francis Kayali, piano

Program Notes

Que me veut le chevalier ? ("What does the Knight want of me?") is inspired by "Le chevalier du guet," a seventeenth-century song that begins with the Knight Captain of the Watch coming to a house and waking up someone inside. "Who is passing by so late?" asks the occupant. And, after the Knight introduces himself, the next question is "What is the Knight asking for?"

I pause the story at this point, dwelling on this question: the puzzlement at being interrupted, the worry, and the uncertainty. Why did this nighttime visitor wake me up? Is he the bearer of bad news? Is this a strange dream?

Here, the Knight's appearance - not unlike that of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni - symbolizes a moment of reckoning, where we are unexpectedly faced with a judge, be it a higher power, death, or our own conscience, and we are suddenly held accountable for having failed to find direction and meaning and for having allowed ourselves to float, permanently unmoored, without a sense of purpose.

Taken unawares as we open the door for this visitor, we hurriedly formulate defenses and petty arguments, we try to seduce and cajole, we attack, we feign insanity, and when none of this succeeds, we turn inward, receding again into our slumber. And whether we die or are allowed to go on like this for a while longer, we dissolve into nothingness.

Over the course of the piece, the question is repeated three times, with increasing urgency. As the narrative proceeds, the flutist moves from the C flute to the alto flute, and ultimately to the bass flute, symbolizing a slow backward fall into an ever-deepening and darkening chasm.

In addition to the melody of "Le chevalier du guet," which is used extensively throughout, the piece quotes from the tragic eighteenth-century song "Le roi a fait battre tambour." The piece ends with the main theme superimposed over the last few measures of Robert Schumann's Kreisleriana, which evokes a ghostly horseman galloping away enigmatically.

"Le roi a fait battre tambour," which is quoted in m. 238, is a French song from around 1750 which describes how a king takes a mistress who is then poisoned by the queen. (According to one source, the story is based on the death of Gabrielle d'Estrée, who was the mistress of Henri IV at the time that Marguerite de Valois was still the Queen.)

"Que me veut le chevalier ?" received its first performance at the Back Cove Festival of Contemporary Music in Portland, Maine, on April 9, 2016 with flutist Rebecca Jeffreys and the composer at the piano. It was subsequently played at the Chapel Art Center on the campus of Saint Anselm College on April 22, 2016.