Blue Windows

Score title

Blue Windows


Libby Larsen

More about the composer



Program note

On a grey, wet day, the streets and buildings of Chicago seem like a huddle of giants layered in sopped army issue blankets, chilled to the bone, hungry, weary from patience, waiting for light and warmth. There is no cold quite like Chicago cold. No drab quite like Chicago drab. Chicago, on a day like this, is the perfect psychological backdrop for Marc Chagall’s America Windows, six cobalt blue/indigo glass panels alive with images of light and humanity commissioned for the U.S. bicentennial and installation at the Chicago Institute of Art. After leaving the streets of Chicago and its architecture of industrial gigantism, coming into the museum, and finally standing in front of the America Windows, these delicate, translucent fixed moments of fluidity, you have avisceral sensation of shedding enormous shouldered weight and becoming extraordinarily light and flowing. It was a strange, even magical feeling I experienced when I first saw them in 1980, and I have that feeling every time I stand in front of them since then.

And so I think on Chagall’s purpose in creating the America Windows. Having found safe haven in the United States during World War II, Chagall set about to respond to his U.S. bicentennial commission with an homage to freedom, liberty, culture, and religious tolerance in the form of six stained glass panels representing Theater, Art, Dance, Music, Literature, and Freedom. Each window lauds the essence of creativity in the genius of human artistic responses to it.

Thirty years from their unveiling in 1977, Chagall’s homage sheds an entirely different light on the state of artistic freedom in the United States. I wonder if observing the mediated voice of artists in America today, Chagall would respond with such exuberant work. From his cultural perspective in the 1970’s, Chagall may have seen the truth of freedom of thought and how fragile and fleeting is the moment which articulates that truth through creativity. And that is why I am inspired by the windows now, and see and feel them in relief to burdened weight and edifice. His choice of glass to capture that moment in our American culture is genius.

Blue Windows: After Marc Chagall, for woodwind quintet and piano, is an homage to Marc Chagall’s homage to freedom. The piece is in six movements. Each movement corresponds to one of the windows. I decided to feature a solo woodwind in each of the first five movements: clarinet (Theater), flute (Art), oboe (Dance), horn (Music) and bassoon (Literature). In movement six, Freedom, all six instruments share a combined texture, a democratic statement, if you will.

Currently, the windows have been temporarily removed to be cleaned while the new wing is being constructed at the Art Institute of Chicago. They will be reinstalled by 2009. For more information on Marc Chagall you can visit

— Libby Larsen, January 2006