For Chamber Ensemble,
In 3 Mvmts

Notes by
Ken Ueno

Text by
Maurice Sendak
(Chicken Soup
with Rice

This piece was
written for The 
Relâche Ensemble.

When the Relâche Ensemble approached me to compose a piece incorporating the work of Maurice Sendak, I thought of my favorite works of his: Alligators All Around, One was Johnny, and Chicken Soup with Rice. There is something about the serial (1) structures (2) of these books, which have always captivated me. The elegant and compact layout was impressive. Each ordered element (a letter, a number, a month) is portrayed with text and illustration that fits on one or two pages (3). As I was reading and rereading the three books, I started reading them nonlinearly - opening a page of one, then reading a random page in another, skipping from one section to another backwards and forwards. A remarkable feature of these serial structures is that no matter where one cuts into the narrative, one knows exactly where one is in the structure. For example, in Chicken Soup with Rice (4), if one knows that the structure is the cycle of months, then opening the book to “May,” we know that we are at the beginning of second quarter of the overall form. It is a kind of structure in which we can psychologically “fill-in” the narrative when sections are skipped, or jumped over. In my piece, I wanted to create a musical structure that can be perceived linearly as well as non-linearly (like the footnotes on this page). Additionally, I wanted to represent the resonance of the poetic effect of the months before the literal reading of the Sendak setting. What I mean is something of the effect of memory and recall when you feel like there is a cyclic experience, but somehow it feels different each time. My solution was to compose a song based on Chicken Soup with Rice, which is only wholly presented (5) in the last (6) movement. In the first two movements are musical materials derived from the materials in the last movement (7).
Serial, as sequentially ordered structures, not dodecaphonic.

Alligators All Around is based on the alphabet, One was Johnny is a counting book and Chicken Soup with Rice is a book of months.

In the case of Alligators All Around, based on the alphabet, each ordered element is set to one page, whereas in One was Johnny and Chicken Soup with Rice each ordered element is set on two pages (facing pages).  This is why these two books begin on an “even” page.

After considerable debated, I settled on using only Chicken Soup with Rice.

“Whole” is a misnomer, for I purposely leave out certain months.

The third movement.

The piano toccata in the first movement is the piano is related to the piano accompaniment of the original song (which is never wholly wholly presented).  The microtonal harmonies in the second movement are derived from formant analysis of a female voice (alto) singing the names of the months.


© 2020 KEN UENO



© 2020 KEN UENO