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Five A.M. "after Allen Ginsberg" (2009)

for cello and piano

Five A.M. for cello and piano is based on a succinct poem of the same name by Allen Ginsberg. I was instantly struck by the poem's restless and manic quality with the speaker ranting about life's unanswerable questions in a seemingly drug-induced state of existential crisis. The poem depicts the anxious thoughts that can keep one awake at that transitional time, when night shifts into morning.

With my Five A.M., I do not attempt to match up the poem word for word with the music, but rather musically depict its essence as I perceive it. My work is in two contrasting sections (slow-fast) played without a pause. Quick shifts in mood and character create a manic atmosphere, with lyrical gestures intermingling with jagged, emotional outbursts. Composed in 2009, the piece is dedicated to cellists Nicholas Canellakis and Gal Nyska and received its world premiere at The Juilliard School.

- Michael Brown


Five A.M.
by Allen Ginsberg

Elan that lifts me above the clouds
into pure space, timeless, yea eternal
Breath transmuted into words
Transmuted back to breath
in one hundred two hundred years
nearly Immortal, Sappho's 26 centuries
of cadenced breathing -- beyond time, clocks, empires, bodies, cars,
chariots, rocket ships skyscrapers, Nation empires
brass walls, polished marble, Inca Artwork
of the mind -- but where's it come from?
Inspiration? The muses drawing breath for you? God?
Nah, don't believe it, you'll get entangled in Heaven or Hell --
Guilt power, that makes the heart beat wake all night
flooding mind with space, echoing through future cities, Megalopolis or
Cretan village, Zeus' birth cave Lassithi Plains -- Otsego County
farmhouse, Kansas front porch?
Buddha's a help, promises ordinary mind no nirvana --
coffee, alcohol, cocaine, mushrooms, marijuana, laughing gas?
Nope, too heavy for this lightness lifts the brain into blue sky
at May dawn when birds start singing on East 12th street --
Where does it come from, where does it go forever?

Allen Ginsberg

Listen & Watch

Nicholas Canellakis, cello; Michael Brown, piano
Recorded at the Rose Studio at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

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