BROKEN CYCLES Mathew Fuerst
Broken Cycles was written during the summer of 2014 for Stacey Jones and Brad Blackham, who gave the premiere at Hillsdale College in October of that year. The title refers to the compositional technique used to organize the piece. The work is essentially a chaconne, although I decided to experiment with the traditional design of a chaconne. Instead of presenting the chord progression clearly at the beginning, I combined a chaconne and the minimalist method of additive technique, an example of which can be found in Frederic Rzewski’s wonderful Coming Together. In Broken Cycles, the first “variation” or section presents only the first chord, then the second presents the first two chords of the progression, the third section presents the first three chords, and so forth. In writing this work I was also inspired by fractal images, such as the self-similarity of the Mandelbrot Set. In fact, the work was originally titled Mandelbrot Variations. The influence of fractal images is found within each section such that in the second section the two chords are presented twice in two keys related to the two chords, the third section presents the three chords in three keys related to the harmonies, and so forth. The influence of fractal art played a roll in the large scale construction of the work as well. Each section is begun on a new tonal center that relates to the chaconne progression so that if one were to look at the tonal center of each section the result would reveal the chaconne progression. This was to be the organizing principle for the work as the progression and variations expand until reaching all the harmonies in the progression.
In order to have some aural logic to the piece, the percussionist plays a variety of instruments to the halfway point, and after a pause presents them in the reverse order. The percussionist starts on the marimba, then proceeds to the temple blocks, then to the tom-toms, the vibraphone, and finally some suspended cymbals and a large tam-tam. After the pause, the percussionist plays each instrument in retrograde starting with a bowed vibraphone, and ending with the marimba with a kick drum.
The problem with this plan in combination with the organization of the chaconne was that as material returned, it was so extended that there was a serious imbalance to the entire work with the later sections far longer and extended than in the initial sections. In order to have greater formal balance, I realized I had to break apart the formal plan, and this happens in the later sections.
The final section, which acts as a sort of coda to the work presents the formal idea of additive technique, but with more rapid harmonic changes yet starting always on E, the tonal center that begins the work. The work ends with the cycle literally breaking apart into pieces.
- Mathew Fuerst
DigressionS Heath Mathews
Heath Mathews is a fiscal year 2015 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Digressions for soprano saxophone, alto saxophone and marimba was written for Duo Zeno (Preston Duncan – saxophones, Scotty Horey – percussion). The piece was premiered by Duncan and Horey at the 2012 North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference held at Arizona State University in March of 2012. Overall, the piece is an exploration of musical texture and rhythmic diversity. The fast opening material helps to provide a grounded framework for the digression and departure of the middle sectional. The composition was inspired, in part, by the virtuosic capabilities of Duncan and Horey.
- Heath Mathews
Lichen Bill Pfaff
The musical impulse for Lichen is color — from instrumental color to the color variants of lichen — awash in the squinting, late afternoon sun. Above treeline, snowflakes mark miniature alpine landscapes. Up close on my hands and knees, I see tiny grains of quartz pulverized by glaciers, alpine heather, delicate flowers, sedges and everywhere on the granite, pastels of lichen. The song of the White-throated Sparrow informs some of the melodic writing in the composition. The bird song is not quoted literally; rather, what sounds is something of my relationship to the song itself, developed over many years, and it stands as one of several sources in the crucible of my creative response to the unusual world above treeline.
The composition is mercurial. Sudden shifts in color and texture are unified by the repetition of pitches in fixed registers that function to create degrees of stasis in the emerging dialogue. The overall form of the piece is shaped by the alternation of static sections informed by the bird call (ascending minor third) and exuberant, active passages. The ending is coda-like, characterized by a more steady surface rhythm. Roughly halfway through, the piano interjects a closely-spaced, three-note chord. The chord becomes part of the dialectic, representing something constant as the material unfolds and it too is related to the song of the White-throated Sparrow, as the outer pitches form a minor third. Literal repetition has no place. As the composition evolves, defining and characteristic motivic material returns, seemingly out of nowhere, infused with new meaning, combining experience with change.
- Bill Pfaff
Three Trifles Sally Reid
Three Trifles for alto saxophone and percussion was commissioned on the occasion of Abilene Christian University’s centennial celebration. The composition was written for saxophonist Eric Wilson and percussionist Allen Teel. Each “trifle” (Bagatelle, Reverie and Flytja) pairs a unique percussion grouping with the alto saxophone.
The Bagatelle, for timpani, tambourine, crotales, cymbal and saxophone, is organized by minimalist pitch and rhythmic rows in the timpani framed by the opening and closing sound of a cymbal suspended above the timpani drumhead. The Reverie, for marimba and saxophone, is romantic in conception, employing bowed marimba sounds.
The third movement, Flytja, for multi-percussion (four toms, two temple blocks, a cowbell and a suspended cymbal) and saxophone takes its title from an old Norse word meaning to move (relocate) or to perform (a song or play). Everytime the audience imagines that the performers have lost their place in the score, suddenly a reassuring tutti passage is heard, all in great fun. These trifles are simple little ditties that don’t take themselves too seriously, and neither should the listener. The movements may be performed separately or as a group.
- Sally Reid
A Different Drummer William Thomas McKinley
William Thomas McKinley (1938-2015) completed A Different Drummer: An Instrumental Omnibus on July 22, 1989 in Reading, MA. Essentially a concerto for pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments, the piece is dedicated to the soloist, Danny Druckman, who is currently the associate principal percussionist of the New York Philharmonic, and to the New York New Music Ensemble, which commissioned the piece. The world premiere occurred on October 30, 1989 in Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory of Music with Robert Black conducting the commissioning ensemble.
The instrumentation consists of piccolo, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, percussion, piano, and cello. With these instruments McKinley explores over 30 combinations of tone colors and groupings, such as a duet for alto flute and vibraphone or a trio of piano, cello, and flute.
A Different Drummer begins by presenting the main motive of the rondo-shaped piece in a snare drum cadence answered by piccolo. The instrumentation evokes the fife and drum corps of Colonial America, thereby giving this work its American character, which is a stylistic hallmark of McKinley’s entire output. In this duet as well as throughout the kaleidoscopic piece, McKinley presents brief ideas and develops them masterfully through repetition or variation of pitch, rhythm, and instrumentation. McKinley balances this variety through the unifying percussion, which functions as a cantus firmus and regulates the compositional pacing. The piece concludes after one final turn of the kaleidoscope as the flute and snare repeat the initial idea.
-William M. Helmcke
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