Interestingly, the work that tried to please the least was the most compelling. Hayes Biggs’ piece Ave Formosissima harkens back to the dance-mad, melismatic and slightly raucous music of the Middle Ages. But the score, with its zig-zagging lines and pungent dissonances, is genuinely contemporary.”

—New York Times

A Consuming Fire, a short, zesty trio by Hayes Biggs, led off the evening. The piece is framed by some engagingly angular rhythmic writing, with a lyrical nougat at the center.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

[The] most convincing and coherent performance [was] Hayes Biggs’ homage to his composer/pianist colleague Eric Moe, E.M. am Flügel, a short piece with romantic gestures and echoes of Berg and Stravinsky.”

—Aufbau

The Mass for All Saints would be an exciting challenge for those choirs skilled in precise intonation and rhythmic agility. Biggs writes with knowledge of and respect for the expressive capabilities of the human voice.”

—Choral Journal

Hayes Biggs’s wedding motet Tota Pulchra Es, here being sung for the first time, impressed by its quiet solemnity and neat working of its expressive opening motif: not empty fanfares but a reminder of the seriousness and privacy of love.”

—New York Times

Mass for All Saints by composer Hayes Biggs releases shadows transformed into tendrils of light by the arabesque of the vocal line. Contrapuntal procedures are used to their utmost expressive effect. [It] is a work of a melodist of talent in the manner of Puccini, or better yet, Respighi.”

—La Liberté

The Biggs song, Northeast Reservation Lines, is a real party piece... the sneakiness of the changes, the liveliness of the music and the verve of the performance worked handily... a potential recital hit in the vein of Bernstein’s I Hate Music cycle.”

—The Village Voice

All the works tried a return to tonality typical of the decade; the most successful made the return oblique and ambiguous. Hayes Biggs’ O Sacrum Convivium took off from the motet of Tallis, yet it handsomely reconfigured early modes in a modernistic scheme of free tonality.”

—New York Times

Hayes Biggs’ To Becalme His Fever... is a vivid evocation of anxiety, fits and repose. The language embraces pointillistic colors, romantic lines and prickly episodes when the demons hover. Biggs claims a forceful and subtle dramatic hand, along with a keen command of instrumental resources.”

—The Plain Dealer

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A Consuming Fire

1995

Instrumentation

Flute (doubling Piccolo and Alto Flute), Oboe (doubling English Horn) and Piano
Duration: ca. 9 minutes
Publisher: C. F. Peters Corporation, Edition Peters 67675

Composer's Program Notes

 

Commissioned by and dedicated to oboist Charlyn Bethell and pianist Guy Urban, A Consuming Fire was completed in January of 1995. The title actually has two sources. The first of these is a biblical reference from the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament: “For our God is a consuming fire.” I have vivid memories of hearing for the first time Stravinsky’s stark, powerful setting of these words for chorus and orchestra in his A Sermon, A Narrative and a Prayer (1961). Thinking of that musical setting reminded me of another, very different image of a consuming fire by the poet Robert Herrick in his To Musique, To Becalme His Fever [see Composer’s Program Notes for To Becalme His Fever]. Referring to the fever of the title, he writes, “Thou sweetly canst convert the same/From a consuming fire,/Into a gentle-licking flame,/And make it thus expire.” Once again, it was through a choral setting, Elliott Carter’s wonderful To Music (1937) that I first came to know this text.

Cast in a single movement lasting roughly nine minutes, A Consuming Fire begins with a fast, tumultuous section marked molto agitato-violento. In the midst of this portion of the piece, the oboist switches to English horn, the first such change of instrumental color in the work. The rhythmic intensity of the music continues unabated, finally seeming to hit a wall, as any obvious sense of pulse is suddenly obliterated, abruptly beginning a slower, more lyrical (though no less intense) middle section. At this point another new timbre, that of the alto flute, is introduced, further darkening the overall hue of the woodwind writing. The music gradually becomes more active, and trills in all the instruments herald the arrival of a third section, at an even faster tempo than that of the beginning of the piece. Higher, more brilliant registers gradually begin to assert themselves again, as the alto flute changes to flute, and after a brief piano interlude, the final timbral and registral transformation in the two wind parts is effected: the flute turns into a piccolo and the English horn back into an oboe. After a short while, the rhythmic activity is again abruptly halted, and a very brief coda at a much slower speed (dying embers, perhaps?) features the winds, marked placidamente, accompanied by hand-stopped single tones on the piano.

Reviews

San Francisco Classical Voice
February 15, 1999
By Ronald Caltabiano

The first [work on the program] was best: A Consuming Fire (1995) by New York composer Hayes Biggs, a tightly constructed nine-minute trio for flute, oboe and piano. It was clear that this was a composer who understands that harmonic motion, even in an atonal work, is crucial to creating expectation. The opening progression informed us of the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic world of the piece. As the work unfolded through its three main parts and coda (fast—slow—fast—slow), expectations were constantly created, then fulfilled or denied.

In the fast sections of A Consuming Fire, harmonic progressions were repeated enough to become familiar, then, at just the right moment, led to new and unexpected territory. In the contrapuntal middle section and coda, interval patterns and phrase lengths were carefully established, then subtly changed. This kept the listener involved at all times in this work of remarkable clarity and expressivity.

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