The Cinnamon Peeler (2009) for Bb Clarinet, Violin, Violoncello, and Piano
- Winner of the Hatz Special Recognition Prize by the National Federation of Music Clubs
- Honorable Mention of the New York Art Ensemble Young Composer’s Competition
Two years ago, a friend of mine shared with me her favorite poem. That poem was “The Cinnamon Peeler” by Sri-Lankan born writer Michael Ondaatje. On the surface, “The Cinnamon Peeler” is a highly erotic poem that deals with the idea of love leaving its aromatic traces on a person’s skin. However, below the surface it reads like a lonely poem of fantasy and longing. I get an image of the narrator sitting alone in a brightly lit kitchen late at night, a glass of wine in one hand and a pen in the other scribbling away this poem. It is this dichotomy of very complicated emotions that has caused “The Cinnamon Peeler” to bury itself into my subconscious, peek it’s head out every once in a while, and finally inspire this piece of music.
In conceiving this work, I decided to use the single tetrachord (0,1,3,5) and its various subsets as the harmonic basis throughout. I chose this tetrachord because of the “dreamlike” and “yearning” qualities that I heard in its sound. The piece opens with the violin and cello, sustaining various tones of this tetrachord before the piano comes in with a severe and insistent rhythmic motif. This continues while the clarinet and violin share a duet passing the melody back and forth, much like the cinnamon dust being traded between our poem’s lovers. Many of the motivic elements heard will linger throughout the piece, suggesting the lingering smell of cinnamon.
The piece begins to build toward its first major climax through the use of slowly developing triplet figures and a nostalgic melody. It suddenly bursts forward with an unyielding rhythmic figure in 7/8, hinting at the overwhelming frustration that the man feels as he “buried his hands in saffron, disguised them over smoking tar…” After this climax, the piano takes over which coincides with the change of perspective to the woman in the poem. The bass part in the piano brings forth a simple song-like melody and is soon joined by the other instruments with ideas heard throughout the piece as the woman joyfully accepts her role.
“I am the cinnamon peeler’s wife. Smell me.”