John Gordon Armstrong

Canadian Composer



Notes from the composer

When Christopher Lewis was killed in an automobile accident in September, 1992, four of his closest friends—myself, Lori Burns, Gordon Sly and Janine Gaboury—were living in the United States, close to each other but too far from Edmonton to attend Christopher’s funeral. Instead, we got together in East Lansing for our own private memorial and Nightmusics was conceived—a trio for tenor, horn and piano, to be composed by me and performed by Janine and her colleagues, tenor Keith Tonne and pianist Deborah Moriarty.

In the words of Gordon Sly, “Christopher Lewis felt deep sympathy for the ideals and expression of Romantic and post-Romantic German art music, particularly as manifested in the music for voice: the Lieder tradition of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Strauss and early Schönberg; and the music-dramas of Wagner and great orchestral songs of Mahler and Richard Strauss. His passion above all was the musical world of Gustav Mahler…” I turned to my friend John Shreffler for the text, and asked him to produce something that Mahler might have set. Using Rückert as a point of departure, Shreffler produced the poetry of Nightmusics, evoking the sense of yearning and loss typical of the period using metaphors characteristically drawn from nature.

My setting follows the text closely and was written freely, without much precomposition. There are references to both Mahler (the opening horn flourish) and Wagner (the horn solo at the end) in the final movement.

Obviously this is a piece that carries a great deal of meaning for me. It’s not easy, but it is powerful.

Composed in 1993 for tenor voice, horn, piano
Text by John Shreffler
Four Songs
Duration: 10 minutes
Very Difficult/Accessible

1. Distant, uninvolved


2. Eager, with anticipation


3. Nervous, agitated


4. Distant, nostalgic