Night with the eyes of a horse that trembles in the night.

Night with eyes of water in the field asleep is in your eyes.

A horse that trembles is in your eyes of secret water.

Eyes of shadow-water. Eyes of well-water. Eyes of dream-water.

Silence and solitude. Two little animals moon-bed.

Drink in your eyes. Drink in those waters.

If you open your eyes! Night opens doors of musk.

The  secret kingdom of water opens, lowing from the centre of
the night.

And if you close your eyes a river, a silent and
beautiful current fills you from within. Flows forward.
Forward darkens you.

Night brings its wetness to beaches in your soul.

The piece begins on a standard B-flat minor triad with a hovering third in the soprano line. As the first five measures progress, a subtle chord progression plays upon this tonic chord, consisting of ninth and eleventh chords, yet still maintaining the B3♭ pedal point. This use of tonic beneath moving dissonance paints an initial sensation of darkness and irregularity, and is maintained an octave lower in measures 6-15. Whitacre then immediately shifts the established current with a subito forte entrance by the women on a B♭ minor triad, echoed by the men two beats into the measure. The men and women continue the “call-and-response” tonic-beneath-dissonance progression as it modulates downward. Measures 25-26 echo the irregular opening in “silence and solitude,” and 26-27 feature a melodically-absent duet between the soprano and alto consisting of minor seconds and perfect fourths.

Figure 1: 14-part divisi chord on “eyes.”

In measures 28-52, Whitacre draws the listener by invitation on a crescendo to “drink in […] eyes […and] waters,” until one can finally “open your eyes.” In the single climax chord of “eyes,” divided sopranos, altos and tenors sing a tone cluster filling in all diatonic notes between A5♭ and E4♭ , while the basses support with the submediant, a G-flat major chord (see Figure 1).

This gradually deflates to measure 41, back to the “night,” the chord composed of another A-flat mixolydian scale and the bass on supertonic of the relative major.

Measure 42 relays the most notable melodic line, with a D5♭ down to C5 to A4♭ and up to B4♭, a common melodic sequence used in more popular music, such as in the pieces “Starlight Sequence” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express” and “Once Upon A Dream” from Frank Wildhorn’s “Jekyll and Hyde.”

The piece collapses to the opening’s tonic/dissonant play, as the final chord rings out the echoed B♭ minor tonic chord.

Eric Whitacre

Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre had no formal music training until he was 18. Now, at 40, his choral works are enormously popular.

First Listen: Eric Whitacre, ‘Choral Music’

by Gail Eichenthal (KUSC)

June 6, 2010

I can’t possibly forget the first time I heard about the music of Eric Whitacre — it was moments after the inaugural concert at Los Angeles’ brand-new Walt Disney Hall, in 2003.  I’d had the honor of co-hosting an NPR live broadcast that night and was leaving the hall when I bumped into an old friend, the L.A. Philharmonic’s audio producer, Fred Vogler. Fred, in turn, introduced me to a friend of his, a young man named Eric Whitacre who looked exactly like a rock star — long dirty blond hair, a hint of stubble on his chiseled face.

“He’s one of the most frequently performed choral composers of our time,” Vogler said. I nodded politely, thinking, “Of course he is, Fred. And I’m Clara Schumann.”

Only a few weeks later, my son, a high-school choral singer, brought home a recording of “Water Night,” and I was mesmerized by its otherworldly beauty and chromatic harmonies that seemed to float in some mysterious musical landscape.  I learned that “Water Night” was Eric Whitacre’s music, and that, indeed, choirs around the world were singing it.

Whitacre, who just turned 40, proudly credits The Beatles and electronic music as influences, but this particular masterwork was also inspired by Whitacre’s gratitude toward a mentor, Bruce Mayhall. It was Mayhall who convinced Whitacre during a dark time to stay in music. This brilliant piece, written in less than an hour, is the very least Mayhall deserves.