The Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp published his celebrated work Morphology of the Folktale in 1928. In the book, he presented a structural analysis of the Russian folktale, arguing that representatives of the genre all share the same basic narrative components. He identified 31 functions (such as villainy, receipt of a magical agent, and wedding), as well as 7 broad character types which sometimes overlap: the hero, the villain, the dispatcher, the donor, the helper, the princess (or princess’ father), and the false hero. Propp, and a later scholar by the name of Algirdas Greimas, reduced the functions into pairs or groups, and it is from these groupings that I constructed "There Was, and There Was Not." The title of the composition is a phrase which begins fairy tales in some eastern European cultures, akin to “Once Upon a Time….”
The role of the Hero in this story is, of course, played by the cello soloist; the orchestra, in addition to supporting the Hero’s role at times, plays all of the other roles. The work’s lengthy and dreamy introduction features the Hero, who falls victim to a Villain’s curse. At the conclusion of the soliloquy which follows, the Hero resolves to undertake a quest to break the curse, and departs. A magus (sorcerer) gives the Hero a talisman after the Hero accomplishes a feat of great musicality, at which time the Hero descends to the land of the Villain and is victorious in battle. But the Hero’s curse is not yet lifted; upon returning home the Hero is presented with another trial. The Hero’s serenade succeeds in breaking the curse, the Hero is transformed again into his (or her?) true form, and the piece ends ceremoniously – and happily ever after – as the Hero weds.
"There Was, and There Was Not" was composed for cellist Adriana Ransom, Maestro Glenn Block, and the Illinois State University Symphony Orchestra.