Vivian Fine





Poetic Fires




17 ½ minutes


2* 2* 2* 2*, 4221, bass trombone, Percussion (3), Solo Piano, Strings, Harp. Additional Percussion: xylophone, vibraphone, glockenspiel, temple blocks (high and low), wood blocks (high and low), hatchet, susp. cymbal, triangle


Serge Koussevitsky Music Foundation


February 21, 1985, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City, American Composers Orchestra, Gunther Schuller, conductor, Vivian Fine, piano


Poetic Fires is in two large movements, each divided into three sections, and each section inscribed with a text by Aeschylus or Homer.



  1. . . . the multitudinous laughter of the sea-waves . . .

  2. Then my deceased mother’s Soule appear’d…
    Her sight much mov’d me, and to teares did drive My note of her decease.

  3. The Sirens . . . sit amidst . .. a hedge . . . Of dead men’s bones


  1. Aeolus, Great Guardian of the hollow winds

  2. . . . The Sunne went down and up rose Night

  3. Then twanged he up the string,
    That as a swallow in the aire doth sing…
    Jove rent the aire with thunder

program notes

The quotations cover the subjects of earth, wind, water, and fire—the four elements. While Fine says the choices were made subconsciously, she’s pleased by the totality. Although a Greek-like melody appears only once in the piece, other Greek elements are suggested: the water surrounding the islands, the Melteme (the wind), and the sound of a bouzouki, a Greek lute. Susan Feder captures the essence of Poetic Fires in her program notes: “a sparsely scored chamber work, exquisitely colored, in which the piano has an integral part. The rhythmic profile is as sharply defined as the timbral one.”

–Leslie Jones, “The Solo Piano Music of Vivian Fine,” Doctor of musical arts thesis, University of Cincinnatti, 1994


Vivian Fine won’t be in the audience for her premiere with the American Composers Orchestra….she’ll be on stage at the piano….“As I worked through the piano part of Poetic Fires, I found I was using less and less pedal….I’m in a period where I’m writing works that have a dramatic character…I recently visited Greece, so I had a bunch of Greek writings running through my mind. I wrote Poetic Fires without specific literary allusions, and when it was finished I chose quotes to describe the music rather than vice-versa.”…The composer emphasizes the fact that Poetic Fires is not a concerto. “…In Poetic Fires there is much more of an interweaving of the sounds of the piano and orchestra. I tried to make the orchestration transparent and let the lyric and articulated piano passages come through.”

–Susan Galardi, “Premieres: The Composer Speaks,” Musical America, February, 1985


[Fine] returned to a favorite theme, Greek mythology, using short passages by Aeschylus and Homer containing imagery of sea waves, the appearance of a deceased mother, Sirens amidst a hedge of dead men’s bones, Aeolus and hollow winds, Night, and Jove’s harp. The text’s imagery becomes the character for that section, suggesting linear shapes and orchestration…The piano is not a solo instrument as in a concerto, but a member of the orchestra whose timbre Fine mixes with other instruments and occasionally features in a solo passage…Poetic Fires does not stress the internal unity of ‘Drama [for Orchestra],’ such as the cyclic use of materials and many canons. Instead, Fine experimented with unusual orchestral doublings and swathes of orchestral colors. There are passages in which the glockenspiel doubles a trumpet and an English horn doubles a flute: the bassoon repeats a previous piano passage; and the sections about the sirens beings with a cello solo repeated by the contra bassoon. Bassoon, xylophone, and piano are mixed during the section about Aeolus. It is almost as if Fine considers the instrumental timbres to be dancers whom she features in solos and small ensembles.

–Heidi Von Gunden, The Music of Vivian Fine, Scarecrow Press, 1999.