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The Tell-Tale Heart

Full Orchestra
String Orchestra
Wind Ensemble
Solo Instrumental

   Written for Colin Sorgi and the SONAR New Music Ensemble and premiered on May 8, 2015 at the Baltimore Theatre Project in Baltimore, Maryland. The solo piano version was written for Jeannette Fang and premiered in October, 2018.

   This programmatic work takes its name from and evokes the world of Edgar Allan Poe's disturbing and thrilling short story. The Tell-Tale Heart is a narrative told by a presumably mentally-ill man who becomes obsessed with an old man's "vulture eye" that he must rid from himself forever. The music follows the narrative of the story, beginning by setting a dark and creepy mood with string glissandos expanding into dissonant harmonies. The piano's interjections represent the narrator's neurotic nature, and they spread to the oboe and temple blocks as his story unfolds.

   Eventually, the music opens up into a more expansive section, representing the old man's bone-chilling vulture eye. This section features an ostinato in the vibraphone and crotales under which the other instruments sporadically scream out together. The bass clarinet has a soaring melodic line before the music returns to the eerie mood of the opening. From the distance, the snare drum begins to palpitate, gradually growing closer and louder, representing the old man's heartbeat filling the still room with sound. After a long build, the music explodes as the narrator makes his move to vanquish the old man's vulture eye.

   Once the deed is done, it is quiet once again as the narrator disposes of the body underneath his floorboards. Eventually, a knock at the door is heard, and three police officers enter, questioning the narrator. This section of the music is cast as a fugue at a quick tempo, its subject based on the original piano part heard at the opening of the work. The fugue grows more and more frenetic, and a new element enters the soundscape. The bass drum begins to interject, quietly at first, but then more forcefully and angrily, as if trying to force its way through the walls and floorboards. In one final violent explosion of sound, the narrator, driven mad, confesses over the bass drum's clearly defined heartbeat.

   Instrumentation: flute/piccolo, oboe, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano, and percussion; or solo piano

   Duration: ca. 8'

Listen to the premiere by the SONAR New Music Ensemble, conducted by Robert A. Baker:

The Tell-Tale Heart is currently self-published. You may purchase pdfs of this work with the buttons below. If you need a quote for a purchase order or would like to purchase printed scores and parts, please contact me.

The Tell-Tale Heart
Date(s) of performance

Copyright © by Roger Zare Music, ASCAP. All Rights Reserved.