• Nico Muhly
  • Expecting the Main Things From You (2005)

  • St. Rose Music Publishing (World)

Commissioned by the Gabe Wiener Foundation for Judy Clurman

  • perc, org, 2vn, va, vc
  • SATB
  • 24 min

Programme Note

Expecting the Main Things from You begins with a series of exchanges between the choir and ensemble, defining the harmonic progressions that make up the first movement. Throughout the beginning 9-minute movement, the ensemble plays pattern music while the voices sing lines above it – a very explicit accompaniment/solo relationship during which the choir describes men at work. A third of the way through, a solo violin begins outlining a series of chords through arpeggiation, which then gradually fill in and become a single shimmering chord. From this, the choir begins the second part of the poem, beginning with the line “The delicious singing of the mother” and ending in the far distance, listening to the “strong melodious songs”.

Each movement of Expecting ends with a series of wordless pulses, a sort of musical punctuation. If the first and third poems reference the political urgency of the city, the second movement is a pastoral interlude. Accordingly, the percussion parts in this movement are built around three expanding and contracting rhythms in the woodblock, tam-tam, and vibraphone. Three quarters of the choir sings a stylized Morse code (I was inspired by watching satellites pass overhead in the middle of the woods in Vermont; the now-omnipresent invisible haze of technology even in the fields), while some sopranos and altos overlay long, endless lines.

The third movement is the most urgent and the most aggressive in its patterns: I wanted to reinforce Whitman’s movement from the general to the very specific and accusatory second person of the end of the poem. A series of expanding and contracting rhythms and another wordless pulse brings the piece to a quiet close.

Nico Muhly


Expecting The Main Things From You: 1. I Hear America Singing
Expecting The Main Things From You: 2. A Farm Picture (Interlude)
Expecting The Main Things From You: 3. Poets To Come


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