Ellis Island Sonata

Performed by David A. Jaffe, mandolin. Recorded at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford University, 1992.

Ellis Island Sonata
for solo mandolin

I. Arrival
II. Ghosts from the Old Country
III. Progress or Poverty?
IV. Who are my People?

Duration: 22' 

Instrumentation: solo mandolin, with a different scordatura for each movement

"Ellis Island Sonata" is a large-scale piece for a small-scale instrument. Its four movements recall the mandolin tunes of the composer's father and grandfather, conveying something of the experience of the Eastern European immigrants as they discovered America.

The piece opens with Arrival, a first glimpse of the tip of the Statue of Liberty, growing into a complex combination of exhilaration, fear, liberation and regret. Ghosts from the Old Country is from the realm of memory, with past voices and places emerging from the night. In Progress or Poverty?, fast-paced city life assaults the senses, reeling like the sped-up scenes from early silent movies, as the economic reality of the "gold-paved" streets hits home. The final movement, Who Are My People?, is a meditation on who we are and where we came from, based on echoes of the preceding movements.

This piece was commissioned by William Walach for "Mandolin Celebration II", with support from the Evelyn W. Preston Memorial Fund and the George A. Long and Grace L. Long Foundation. Each movement uses a different mandolin tuning:

I: E/G-D-A-E
III: G-C#/D-G/#A-D#/E (later, quarter-tones)

Click here to purchase Ellis Island Sonata on iTunes. To order a score contact Terra Non Firma Press


Short excerpts from a performance at the Garden of Memories walk-through event, Chapel of the Chimes, Oakland, June 21, 2017. David A. Jaffe, mandolin.

Radio Interview

Radio interview including discussion and performance of "Ellis Island Sonata."