"Desert Nocturnes" presents a sonic narrative of the nocturnal happenings of the deserts and rural plains of the western United States. Beginning with the sun's descent below the horizon, the piece envisions, through loose variations on a four-note motif initially stated by the Brass, the wildlife and nature of these rich landscapes. In each such caricature, the native natural subject matter– geography, snakes, cacti, etc. – is portrayed with contrasting perspectives– some are at first tense, gruff, or sinister; the same wildlife is then described with sweet, pensive, or playful music. "Desert Nocturnes" concludes with a portrayal of dawn; the nocturnal creatures thus sketched now return to sleep, and the sun rises over the world as the entire orchestra recapitulates the narrative kernel of the piece: that essential four-note motif. Inasmuch as "Desert Nocturnes" attempts to conjure up the desert– the "sand, heat, the vacant horizon" all present in the mind of the listener– the rhapsodic assembly of musical experiences simultaneously eschews all illustrative efforts in favor of guiding the listener through that expansive, lively, and challenging wilderness within, which is no desert at all.
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