Twenty-One (2011)

Composed: February 2011
Duration: approx. 5:45 min.
Premiere: August 14, 2011; Sarah Kruser Ambrose, flute; Chris Chandler, piano
Instrumentation: flute, piano; an arrangement for flute and string orchestra is available




In August of 2010, conductor Robert J. Ambrose and his wife, flutist Sarah Kruser Ambrose, lost their son Zachary after twenty-one weeks of pregnancy. In memory of their child, Robert and Sarah asked composer Tim Jansa to write a piece for flute and accompaniment – originally for piano – which Sarah herself would be able to perform in memory of her son.

Finding an appropriate musical language for this work presented a true challenge: Sadness over the loss of a child, while crucial, should not alone dominate; instead, giving voice to the hope for a better hereafter, the promise of new life in general, and the miracle of creation was something the composer, in consultation with both parents, wanted to make an indelible part of the piece. The mood therefore  shifts frequently between sweet sadness, glimpses of hope, visions of young children at play, and introspective remembrance.

“Twenty-One” is a tightly constructed work structured into three distinct parts, each of them comprised of exactly 21 measures: the introduction sequence depicts hope and promise of a new life, with the flute freely associating above a sparse accompaniment. The middle section is a meditation on the process of growth during pregnancy, beginning with a simple, quiet, introspective melody and ‘fluttering’ of newly-beginning life, which grows increasingly more lively and complex – until it suddenly terminates in a suspended F-minor chord…  The third and last section of the work is made up of a reprise of previous material, but ends in a quotation of the ‘transfiguration theme’ from Richard Strauss’s tone poem Death and Transfiguration (1889), which Strauss himself quoted at the end of the fourth of his Four Last Songs from 1949, following the words, “Is this, perhaps, death?” – leaving the question unanswered and hinting at an ongoing existence in the hereafter.