Nighthawks (score & parts) - 2OB/EH
Composer: Henkel, Kathy
Publisher: Silver Birch Music (Henkel)
for two oboes and English horn
by Kathy Henkel - American composer
A couple of years ago, a young double-reed student from Colorado, Nick Carozza, to whom this piece is dedicated, suggested to me that it might be interesting to explore in music the four characters depicted in Edward Hopper's painting, "Nighthawks". A week later I was at a music conference about a mile away from the Art Institute of Chicago, where "nighthawks" resides Spending some time in person with the painting sold me on the idea. My piece is a completely personal take on the characters. (Note: Hopper used his wife as the model for the lady).
Unfolding like a mini-film scenario, the piece goes beyond the borders of the painting. A brief 8-measure preface presents important intervals and elements heard in the work. The word "nighthawks" is spelled out (mm. 9-13). The English horn (representing "the loner" with his back toward us in the painting) then introduces "The Song of the LOnely Night." As the loner walks the streets, a familiar beacon comes into view- "the yellow light" (spelled out in a bright fanfare, mm. 44-49), capped off by a "cafe" repeated three times. Once inside, he orders his usual "coffee" (mm.54-60).
Two of his routine jobs represented by the alternating oboes, the soda jerk takes center stage with repetitious minimalist themes spelling out "dish wash" (mm. 62-69) and "make coffee" (mm. 70-75). At measure 86, the loner orders another coffee.
At measure 95, we meet the couple. It's 1942. They've been through the Depression and now the USA has joined World War II a few months ago. But they've escaped, dressed up, and splurged tonight to celebrate a special occasion. All the evening's planned treats are over, but they don't want the night to end. We join them as the oboes alternate in happy chat as they skip and dance down the street. At the end of measure 102, the lady exults in a series of twirly moves to show off her pretty party dress. Then, they catch sight of the beckoning "yellow light" of the "cafe".
Inside, the loner orders another coffee while the lady more spiritedly orders her anachronistic "latte". From measure 135-148, the soda jerk's routine perks up a bit. Things slow down later as the final coffee and latte are ordered.
Then at measure 157, we reach the moment captures in Hopper's painting- everyone list in their own world in quiet reverie and contemplation. The ancient Dies Irae funeral chant represents the dying of the night. The couple quietly recall, in brief 3/4 time snippets, happy moments of their rare evening out.
Meanwhile, the loner returns to the empty streets as the "Song of the Lonely Night" returns at measure 177. Eventually, he disappears into and becomes one with the lonely darkness.
--Kathy Henkel, Novemberm, 2018