Devil’s Lake

(1998) for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. 10 minutes.
Commissioned by Music St. Croix.

The Standard Atlas and Gazeteer of the World (published in 1890) describes “the weird beauty of Devil's Lake,” which lies between three 500-foot bluffs just south of Baraboo, Wisconsin. “Here, in a tremendous gorge... hemmed in on all sides by frowning rocks, of prodigious size, piled up in every conceivable form, nestles one of the loveliest sheets of water in the whole world.” The evocative name “Devil's Lake” has stuck even though the original Ho-Chunk name is better translated as “Spirit Lake” or “Sacred Lake.”

The piece, in one movement divided into three sections, is a slow-motion meditation on the “weird beauty” of the place. The first section gradually piles up large chords in the piano, while the other instruments imitate some of the many bird songs heard around the lake. The second section gets a little more lively (perhaps reflecting some of the human tourist activity) but is interrupted several times by the string instruments chirping like a chorus of frogs. The final section features a slow clarinet melody inspired by the graceful upward spirals of turkey vultures soaring above the water.

[score] PDF score (298 KB).

[sound] MP3 recording (11.73 MB).

[download mp3]