Coxe: Across the Universe

Program Note

Stephen Coxe (b.1966)
Across the Universe (2013)

Composer's Note:
Across the Universe was written for the 2013 Yellow Barn Concert Season, and given its premiere by Susan Narucki and Seth Knopp.  I was requested to write a piece based on a Beatles tune, and in this case I chose John Lennon’s Across the Universe, written in 1967, recorded throughout 1968 and 1969, and released (with production by Phil Spector) on the Let It Be album in 1970. Interestingly, the song was sent as an interstellar transmission by NASA in 2008, directed toward the star Polaris, to celebrate NASA’s 50th anniversary: it will arrive there in the year 2439. 

Lennon’s lyrics and melody have haunted me since early childhood, when first introduced by cool babysitters who played the Beatles. It is one of his most meditative, timeless, brilliant songs, and in my view the oddity of Spector’s production makes it that much more memorable (though Lennon would have vehemently disagreed).  There is nothing to add to his lyrics and melody, so it is excerpted intact; I have added a completely new piano accompaniment. Throughout, Lennon refrains a Sanskrit phrase, “jai guru deva om,” with one possible translation being “hail the shining remover of darkness.”

—Stephen Coxe

Stephen Coxe studied at Swarthmore College and Yale University, where his principal teachers were Martin Bresnick, Jacob Druckman, Ezra Laderman, and Gerald Levinson.  He has received awards from the Aaron Copland Fund, Argosy Foundation, ASCAP, the Belgian-American Educational Foundation, Composers Guild, Friends and Enemies of New Music, and Meet the Composer, among others.  He has received commissions from American Voices, Musicians Accord, Peabody Trio, Weilerstein Trio, New Orleans Friends of Music, Sequitur, and others, and has been in residence at Yaddo, Ragdale, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  Yellow Barn has commissioned many works, among them The Very Hungry Caterpillar for narrator, flute, and percussion (2004); Noch Ein Stelldichein for soprano and chamber ensemble, based on an unfinished fragment by Schoenberg (2005); Bonnie Variations for two cellos (2010); A Book of Dreams for accordion, percussion, and piano (2011); and Gordon’s Garden Music (2014), an hour-long installation for multiple simultaneous ensembles and recorded sounds premiered at Hayward Gardens for the 2014 Yellow Barn Gala. Stephen is on the faculty of the Yellow Barn Young Artists Program, where he has directed a program for young composers  performances of over 150 new works since 2005. Guest faculty composers in the Young Artists Program have included Sebastian Currier, Howard Frazin, Aaron Jay Kernis, Amy Beth Kirsten, Fred Lehrdahl, David Ludwig, Steven Mackey, Eric Nathan, Eric Sawyer, Caroline Shaw, Lewis Spratlan, Christopher Theofanidis, and Melinda Wagner.