Brayden Carr’s Flos Lunae

Brian Patrick Bromberg
18 December, 2021

I have always paid close attention to the phases of the moon, felt a close relationship to the moon, and the fact that today I am writing about Flos Lunae and there is a full moon has not escaped unnoticed.

The first thing that attracted me to Brayden Carr’s Flos Lunae was the immediate accessibility of the music.  Written in one movement, Flos Lunae takes its name from an Ernest Christopher Dowson poem of the same name.  The poem has the repeating line “I would not alter thy cold eyes,” and other lines which include “Though all my life droops down and dies.” The first time I read this poem I thought it was about a hopeless situation, but after reading it again I found that quite the opposite was true.  

Using this piece for inspiration, Carr has composed a lovely piece for solo cello.  With four distinct sections it clocks in a bit over 8 minutes.  One might think that with such dark text, any solo written for cello is going to be laboriously depressing, but one would be wrong!  Carr’s piece has moments of subdued suspense, driving rhythmic verve, earnest hope, and overt passion.  

The title Flos Lunae means Flower of the Moon in English, and the opening section sets the tone of a quiet tranquil night.  Long sustained notes with regular left-hand pizzicato bring to mind a slow procession stalking the streets; melodies on the upper strings weave themselves over an ever present G drone, all done in a piano dynamic.

This sombre mood is suddenly broken by the raucous start to the second section written at a daring crochet equals 152.  The brutish nature of this section is further enforced by the occasional usage of stomping on the floor and slapping of the instrument.  This kind of technique is often met with skepticism by instrumentalists (rightly so, as it is rarely effectively used) but I can assure you that it works here.  It is almost like this walking procession of the opening section has channeled their feelings into the most basic of responses and the only way of expressing them is through these barbaric gestures.  To really make this effect pop, I suggest wearing heavy, loud, clomping shoes!

In this section we also come across some compositionally important pitch material. This major/minor chord (C E Eb G) first appears in this ⅞ dance and needs to be treated carefully.  It is common to overplay these dissonant intervals, so to combat this I try to go the other way and play them slightly more delicately.  As they often happen as double stops, or later as 4 note chords, it is really important to practise these slowly for intonation so we can hear that they are indeed chords and not simply dissonant clusters. 

This major/minor chord gets further development in the next section, which is my favourite.  It also happens to be the most difficult in my opinion.  Scored at a slow minum equals 50 and in a broad 3/2, bow control and sustain are absolute musts.  Much of this section utilises open strings in conjunction with dissonant double stops which resonate in a really cool way on the instrument.

As this section comes to a close and brings us into the final section there is a lovely contrasting pizzicato passage with the marking “guitar like” above the staff.  To achieve this “guitar like” effect, I play this passage slightly arpeggiating the double stops with the thumb and first finger in the right hand. 

Although there is a break written at the end of this section (likely to facilitate page turns) I recommend finding a way to minimise the time of silence here.  I prefer to have this final pizz chord linger into the final section which links nicely with the first phrase that opens on a Db an octave above the sustained chord’s Db.  I hear this last section as more of a coda to the piece as a whole rather than an entirely independent section.  Carr recalls some of the previous movements’ materials and brings back the occasional left hand pizz with which we started the piece.  The final section marked ‘hazy’ ends in a resolved but unresigned fashion, on a C and G double stop crescendo.

Flos Lunae is an easily accessible piece for audiences because it has a clear narrative and familiar characters with new twists that pull the listener into the music. I recommend this piece to players who are interested in exploring modern repertoire and looking for a piece that gives them a chance to dabble in some modern playing techniques.  Programme it for your next mid-autumn festival concert!