Thursday, May 25, 2006

Putting things in order

Faced with an awkward working schedule for the past week (dominated by a four-year old underfoot, allowing work only in fits and starts, late nights and early mornings), I decided to make a set of short pieces, twelve little piano preludes to be exact, one for each tonic, in fifths, from Ab to C#, each with a duration between 30 seconds and one minute. I wanted to make pieces suitable for home music-making, playable by students or amateurs willing to stretch their tastes and techniques a bit, and, more privately, I wanted to dip into a pool of techniques that I've poured together over the years. I made the decision that processes or systems, once begun, did not have to cycle through to completion; time was short, and they could simply remain suggestive. I had the notion that once I committed to completing a set of 12 pieces, the requirement to complete any other list was effectively revoked. The pieces could be tonal, or modal, or neither, or something ambiguously posed in-between any of these environments.

Clear enough, and I've basically finished nine of the 12, but now I'm stuck on a basic formal issue. I just don't know whether the playing order should be Ab to C# in ascending fifths or C# to Ab, descending. On the sharp side, things are more abstract, even primitive at times, while the flat-keyed pieces are more "musical" in some traditional sense, and the Ab prelude, in particular, would provide a rather sweet way to start or to end. I could leave it up to the player, but that strikes me as disingenuous, or even cute, and that's not what these pieces are about. (I do, in fact, leave plenty to the player in terms of tempi, articulation, dynamics, but that's just my view of the standing contract between composer and performer).

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