My Vital Breath

Price: $34.95
by Frank A. Wallace
for mandolin orchestra; PARTS INCLUDED
“Obra premiada en el Concurso Internacional de Composición José Fernández Rojas 2013” Prize-winner in the José Fernández Rojas 2013 International Composition Competition sponsored by ConTrastes Rioja, Logroño, Spain.

Preview: a sample PDF of My Vital Breath

Duration: 9:20 minutes; 22 pages

Difficulty level: Difficult ensemble rhythms and several soloist sections

Instrumentation: mandolin 1, mandolin, 2, 8ve mandola, guitar, double bass

Written: June, 2013 in honor of Benjamin Britten’s 100th Anniversary (11/22/13) for NAME (New American Mandolin Ensemble); dedicated to Mark and Beverly Davis

World premiere: will be May 29, 2014 in Bruchsal, Germany by NAME

All Gyre compositions are ASCAP.

Copyright ©2013 Frank A. Wallace
Cover photography and design by Nancy Knowles
All rights reserved.
New American Mandolin Ensemble 2014

A live performance by the New American Mandolin Ensemble of Frank Wallace’s composition, “My Vital Breath.” Recorded on June 6th, 2014 at the Doopsgezinde Kerk in Steenwijk, Netherlands. Video recording by Henk Houtschild, and audio recording and video editing by Emiel Stopler.


My Vital Breath is a prize-winner in the International Competition José Fernández Rojas 2013 which is sponsored by ConTrastes Rioja in Logroño Spain. “Obra premiada en el Concurso Internacional de Composición José Fernández Rojas 2013”. It was written for the New American Mandolin Ensemble (NAME) in June of 2013 and in memory of Benjamin Britten on the occasion of his 100th anniversary.

Two events inspired the work, firstly a commission from German guitarist Detlev Bork to write a work for Britten’s 100th. A Heavy Sleep was debuted by Detlev on November 9, 2013 in Heidleberg Germany. Shortly after I wrote the piece in April, my dear friend Mark Davis asked me to join his New American Mandolin Ensemble, with the stated purpose that it would be the first professional orchestra of it’s kind in America. It only seemed fitting to me to write a piece worthy of such a project. My Vital Breath was the result and in it I borrowed certain ideas from A Heavy Sleep – thus it’s title and dedication to Britten (as well as Mark and Beverly Davis). The titles are both from Dowland’s song Come Heavy Sleep which Britten used for his monumental masterpiece Nocturnal.

My intention for My Vital Breath was to write a piece with no limitations, one that a professional “orchestra” could shine on.  It’s relation to Britten is more important than I originally realized myself. I have often been told that my style is close to Britten – we both reveal a deep love for Renaissance music in our work. My favorite piece for guitar, or rather the piece I think is the greatest ever written for guitar, is the Nocturnal. It explores so many textures in inventive and intriguing ways.  I wanted to do the same.  I think as a composer I am more interested (right now) in texture and gesture than melody and harmony. So there are many duos, trios and dialogues between various parts.  Every instrument has crucial rolls to play throughout.  It is an orchestral concept where the various combos create colors that evolve, contrast, clash and create movement and emotion. Outburst is a psychological side of the piece – where not every phrase is necessarily related to the previous or next, but may be simply a moment of dis-connection – a thought that suddenly overwhelms the moment. Again, my love of Dowland and Britten’s Nocturnal color the whole piece and define the ending.  Britten ends his set of variations with the Dowland theme whereas I end My Vital Breath with a simple melody that finally emerges from the complexity, one that was derived from the name of Britten himself and is played in unison by the whole group.

Come heavy sleepe the image of true death;
And close up these my weary weeping eyes:
Whose spring of tears doth stop my vitall breath,
And tears my hart with sorrows sigh swoln cries:
Come and posses my tired thoughts worn soul,
That living dies, till thou on me be stoule.

Come shadow of my end, and shape of rest,
Allied to death, child to his blackfac’d night:
Come thou and charme these rebels in my breast,
Whose waking fancies doe my mind affright.
O come sweet sleepe; come, or I die for ever:
Come ere my last sleepe comes, or come never.