Lewis Spratlan

One for Two (2021)

PRIMAVERA III the vessel

from the composer

The ceiling, it seems, of Botticelli’s Primavera is a swarm of oranges, homage to the Medici family crest.  In von Heyl’s Primavera 2020 these oranges become the only source of color, other than blue-grey and black, and form a kind of flowing current rather than a ceiling, the subject of the opening of One for Two.

Following the introduction, the piece portrays the variety of figures who appear in both paintings.  The central figure, Venus, leads the ensemble with voluptuous ardor (Botticelli), followed by a kind of Flamenco hauteur (von Heyl).  Cupid, floating above Venus in both paintings, is introduced by an elaborated infantile nursery song.  Zephyr, whose breath provides the paintings’ energy, gives way to a pair of portraits, groups of two (Flora and Cloris) and then three (the Three Graces) women.  Flora and Cloris alternate in Botticellian and then von Heylian versions of a lilting little song that evaporates downward.  The Three Graces live in a cocoon of mutual admiration and interdependence, while preserving their individuality in three distinct musical strands.  Their balance and unity struggle against the tugs of extreme registral “g-forces.”  The almost blurring velocity of Mercury is interrupted by three evocations, in von Heyl’s view, of Picasso, complete with Harlequin garb and an immense black and white phallus.


Lewis Spratlan, winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in music, was born in 1940 in Miami, Florida.  His is the recipient of numerous awards and Guggenheim, Rockefeller, NEA, Bogliasco, and MacDowell fellowships.

Recent works include the one-act opera Earthrise, commissioned by San Francisco Opera; a piano quartet, Streaming, commissioned by the Ravinia Festival as part of its 50th anniversary celebration; Sojourner for ten players, commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress; Zoom, commissioned by Sequitur; Wonderer, commissioned by pianist Jonathan Biss; Shadow, commissioned by cellist Matt Haimovitz; Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, a consortium commission; Architect, a chamber opera, released on CD and enhanced DVD by Navona; A Summer’s Day, commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project; and Shining: Double Concerto for Cello and Piano, commissioned by Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley.

Common Ground, commissioned by the Crossing Choir as part of its Seven Responses initiative, was premiered in Philadelphia, July 2016, and repeated in New York on the Mostly Mozart Series, August 2016.  Spratlan’s opera Life is a Dream received its world premiere by the Santa Fe Opera in 2010, under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, and was awarded the Charles Ives Opera Award by the American Academy of Arts and letters in May 2016.  His Horn Quartet, dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, was premiered in September 2013.  Bangladesh, for solo piano, commissioned by Piano Spheres, was premiered in October 2015 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, by Nadia Shpachenko, followed by numerous subsequent performances. His fourth opera, Midi, a black French Caribbean Medea, is now being developed for production.

Two major choral works will receive their premieres during the 2022-2023 season:  Five Bishop Songs, commissioned by the University of Illinois, for SATB chamber choir, on texts by Elizabeth Bishop; and Creatures, commissioned by Harvard University, for SATB chorus and cellist Matt Haimovitz, on texts by Ted Hughes.

Lewis Spratlan