David T. Little

Photo by Matt Zugale

The Crocus Palimpsest (2021)

PRIMAVERA I the wind

from the composer 

From within the darkness of this year, I found it hard to imagine spring. Memories of that season were instead dominated by the blue-grey of an interregnum winter. I suppose it is not surprising, then, that the work that became The Crocus Palimpsest resisted revelation: the notes simply would not come. Though the Primavera paintings of Botticelli and von Heyl suggested paths to explore, it was not until I happened upon a short chorale I had sketched during the summer that I was able to commit notes to the page. In adapting this chorale for solo cello, I transformed it. The new material emerged as the old material faded, leaving only its shadow. It was while working at this transformation that I read the following passage about the coming of spring from a 1934 letter from Samuel Beckett to his cousin:

I have positively never watched it coming with so much impatience and so much relief. And I think of it as a victory over darkness, nightmares, swears, panic and madness, and of the crocuses and daffodils as the promise of a life at least bearable, once enjoyed but in a past so remote that all trace, even remembrance of it, had been almost lost.

Like a keystone to a masonry arch, Beckett’s words helped bring my ideas into balance, and helped reveal the title. The Crocus Palimpsest then came quickly. I would compose it over the course of several days, as the old year became the new, and we took a step closer to an again-remembered spring.


David T. Little is “one of the most imaginative young composers” on the scene (The New Yorker), with “a knack for overturning musical conventions” (The New York Times). His operas Dog Days, JFK, and Vinkensport (librettos by Royce Vavrek), and Soldier Songs have been widely acclaimed and performed around the globe, “prov[ing] beyond any doubt that opera has both a relevant present and a bright future” (The New York Times).

Little has been commissioned by the world’s most prestigious institutions and performers, including recent projects for the Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Theater new works program, the Kennedy Center, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony, London Sinfonietta, The Crossing, Kronos Quartet, and Beth Morrison Projects. His music has been presented by Carnegie Hall, Holland Festival, LA Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Opéra de Montréal, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the LA Philharmonic.

From 2014 to 2017, Little was composer-in-residence with Opera Philadelphia and Music-Theatre Group. He has previously served as Executive Director of the MATA Festival and on the board of directors at Chamber Music America, and currently chairs the composition department at Mannes—The New School. The founding artistic director of the ensemble Newspeak, his music can be heard on New Amsterdam, Innova, Sono Luminus, and National Sawdust Tracks labels. He is published by Boosey & Hawke.