When Dell Hollingsworth, the founder of La Follia Austin Baroque ensemble, approached me in late 1999 and asked if I would write a new work for La Follia to include in their “Millenium Concert,” I was thrilled with the idea. I had wanted to write for this ensemble for a long time but had not as yet had the opportunity. She said I could use everyone in the ensemble except the keyboard players, who already had their hands full with the rest of the music on the program. I asked her to choose a text, and she sent me “rosetree, rosetree” by e.e. cummings, a strange and enigmatic verse, and one that posed a considerable challenge in setting it to music. Since I was writing for La Follia, I also wanted to pay tribute to them somehow in the music, so I decided to use the famous “Folias de España” theme, from which the group takes its name. The piece thus became “rosetree follies,” a setting of the cummings poem in theme-and-variation form using the La Follia melody as its structural basis. It is scored for alto and tenor voices, baroque flute, baroque tenor recorder, and guitar.
What I enjoyed most about writing and rehearsing rosetree was seeing how the members of La Follia slowly took over the piece and made it their own. What began as a tentative reading through a brand new work in an unfamiliar idiom soon became an enthusiastic and confident performance of a work that was entirely theirs. They did the same thing with my score that they have done with hundreds of baroque scores—they brought it to life by experimenting with (and arguing over) tempos and articulation, by adding baroque-style ornaments to the melodies, and by using their extremely critical ears to hone it into a finished work. rosetree follies belongs as much to La Follia as it does to me.