Date Completed: Fall '04
Part of Series: brokenAphorisms
(Please note: this is one of my favorite scores. Like all Aphorism scores it is designed to be a visual complement to the work itself, and would be difficult to use in a performance. Memorization might be necessary, or if you contact me I can send you a performance-ready version)
Recording: Tracks 5-7 on
Fracture: The Music of Pat Muchmore
bA_12 - bA_13 - bA_14 - Performed by: Franz Nicolay (accordion) and Pat Muchmore (cello/vocals)
The three movements of this piece are the twelfth through fourteenth members of my brokenAphorism series. Like all pieces in this series, the individual movements are named in a kind of code which will make more sense if you read the page about the series in general. In this particular piece, the three musical ideas being broken and shuffled around are named "phères", "etüdök" and "sfârşit", named after the György Ligeti pieces Atmosphères, Magyar Etüdök and Coloanna fără sfârşit respectively (this last is from the second book of piano etudes). Each musical idea is inspired by the Ligeti piece it's named for in a way that's discussed in more detail below, and the names are combined with one another to show what ideas are being shuffled and mingled.
For instance, in the first movement the first section is characterized by both phères and etüdök music. The use of normal, bold and italic characters is also (sort of) explained below.
As mentioned in the title explanation, there are three main musical textures that are cut-up and spread across the three movements of this composition. One, named "phères" is inspired by the cloudy clusters of Ligeti's Atmosphères, where dense, dissonant combinations of notes grow and shrink without any clear sense of rhythm. The clusters are generally made out of half steps, so think of the sound when you play a bunch of adjacent white and black keys on the piano at the same time. The clearest example of this texture can be heard in the accordion throughout the first movement.
Another texture, named "etüdök" after Ligeti's Magyar Etüdök, is a simple melody which gets played in many different forms throughout the piece. A fairly clear example of it can be heard in the accordion at the beginning of the second movement.
The final texture, "sfârşit" is named after the fourteenth piece from Ligeti's piano etudes. Like that piece, it is a constant stream of eighth-notes without any sense of metric accentuation. The most obvious incarnation of this texture is the cello part throughout most of the third movement.
There are actually three different versions of each of these three textures, indicated in the movement titles by normal, italicized and bold fonts. I finally found the page in my notebook where I indicated what these meant, but it's too detailed and uninteresting to anyone but me for this overview. Maybe someday in the Detailed info section. But is it becoming clear that three is an important number in this piece?
In the first movement, the accordion plays three cycles of cloudy clusters, while the cello comments and fights against it. In the score, the accordion part is notated as an ellipse constantly circling around the cello part and colored notation is used to create greater volume and density on each revolution.
In the second movement, the cellist creates the clusters (by singing notes a half-step away from what they are playing on the instrument) while the accordion plays the etüdök melody. In the scores, these two largely unrelated parts move toward each other until they collide and break apart. This is the second section of the movement, in which the cello and accordion just make as much chaotic noise as they can. Out of the confusion, the third and final section emerges and the cello and accordion are briefly working together for the first time.
The final movement is also divided into three sections, and much like the first movement, these are dictated in the score by a circular passage. This time it's the cello that circles around, playing the circle three times for each of the three sections. Again, colored notation is used to add notes for each section (I believe the number of notes is always a multiple of three, by the by). The accordion mostly just comments on the action, until the instruments unite for the final revolutions. I may explain in more detail below, but the intended result of this final passage is the revelation that the etüdök melody is part of the sfârşit ostinato, and the sfârşit ostinato—when properly compressed and stretched out as it is in the accordion—can become the thick harmonic clouds of phères. Now that I type that, it sounds kind of like the Catholic concept of the trinity—One out of three—although that wasn't my conscious purpose. Huh.
This accordion/cello duet was written for me and Franz Nicolay. He taught me the details of how his accordion works (it's way more complicated than you might think. For instance, when you push the button for a A♭°7 chord, what comes out is actually a F° triad with no seventh in first inversion.) So long as you care only about the general tonal content of your piece, there's not a whole lot you need to learn, but if you want to know the specifics of which precise notes occur in particular octaves and orders then it can be a bitch. For a geek like me, it was also kind of awesome, like a puzzle.
My love of Ligeti—unlike Nine Inch Nails, Beethoven, Mahler, Shostakovich, Dead Kennedy's and Barber—is relatively new, but his music has become a major influence on mine. I'm particularly interested in the sound of these dense cluster harmonies moving in and out of each other as in Lontano or Atmosphères, and the ceaseless, machine-like patterns as in many of the piano etudes and Continuum. I chose Ligeti as the composer that my comprehensive exam committee would quiz me on, which meant I had to becoming as familiar as possible with his biography as well as every piece he wrote. This process was suprisingly rewarding.
COMING SOON (maybe)