James Mobberley

James Mobberley

James Mobberley
Photo by Larry Levenson

James Mobberley composed Give ’em Hell! last year for the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. Pianist Robert Weirich gave the premiere performance on March 19, 2000 as part of series celebrating music at the White House. Truman was well known as an amateur pianist and an enthusiastic music-lover; Mobberley explained that before he started to work, the personnel at the Museum “let him know what [the former President] liked and disliked.”

Though Mobberley felt that ultimately “it didn’t make any sense” to base the piece on the President’s musical tastes, he nonetheless made use of two elements that he thinks would have met with Truman’s approval: Impressionist-sounding music, and the song “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” While the piece starts from those two departure points, however, “it diverges pretty fast,” Mobberley emphasized. “I just wanted to write a piece that made good sense to me, that had the emotional shape and development that I like to put into pieces.” The moments of Impressionistic sound are “very fleeting,” he stated, and all he takes from the song are two notes, though these two notes are used throughout the piece.

Give ’em Hell is in three sections. The first section, which starts with an “attention-getting” arpeggio figure, builds up to a climactic point that returns in the third section, when “all hell breaks loose.” In between: a “slow, chewy center,” according to Mobberley. Would Truman have liked the piece? “I’m assuming that he would have listened to it for a few minutes,” Mobberley laughed. “But the clusters at the end would have rotted his socks!”

A native of Pennsylvania, Mr. Mobberley received his masters in composition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and went on to earn a doctorate at the Cleveland Institute before joining the faculty of the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He has also served as the Kansas City Symphony‘s first artist-in-residence since 1991.

A composer of music for orchestra, chamber ensemble, theater, dance, film, and video, Mr. Mobberley at times combines electronic and computer elements with live performance. Mr. Mobberley’s many fellowships, grants, and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Rome Prize Fellowship, a Composer’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lee Ettelson Composers Award.

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