Wrangling with my third duo

I’m having difficulties with my third duo – this one for piano and percussion (marimba and potentially cowbells). Stephen Emmerson suggested I write out some of my thinking on the piece, what I’m happy with and what I’m not happy with and why. This will feed into the PhD process and might be of use later down the track, but it also might help me get past a road block at the moment.

Have a look below for what I have so far – something like 30′ (the piece is intended to be nothing more that 1’30”).

These pieces are supposed to be intuitive and have little to no pre-compositional work. The idea is to let the material go in whatever direction it seems to imply. This will provide me with the opportunity to better understand my own intuition.

Ok. A few points. I don’t want to labour it!

The opening gesture in the piano

  1. It is supposed to be conceived of as a single line (despite to the two hands) and the general parallel motion is to this effect – but it is also supposed to be on the verge of breaking into two…
  2. It is a grand gesture, with a clear direction in the dynamics
  3. Because of the strength of this gesture, and its clear cadence, a logical or implied continuation is very difficult to come by… this annoyed me very much. It seems to imply that it be repeated, perhaps with transposition and slight variation – but that would be too monolithic and classical and I think would be aesthetically at odds with the modern nature of the other aspects of the material (pitch and rhythmic complexity). The resolution in this work is to have a feint or false start (the piano at beats 1 and 2 in bar 3), and then have another, albeit more fully stated, aborted attempt beginning around beat 4 of bar 3. The final attempt is again an aborted repetition. My concern is that this aesthetic of abortion is not at all convincing in itself… it may simply sound like I’m avoiding saying something.
  4. In a sense the weaker percussion line was an attempt to make sure something would continue after the opening gesture.

The cadences

  1. At bar 2, bar 4 (beat 2) and bar 5. Probably the stuff I’m most happy with, since it feels like I have a certain control over the polyphony. That the nature of the polyphonic texture can change within a single phrase is something I have heard in Bartok and also some Gesualdo I have been listening to lately. It raises the question of “A counterpoint for what?” rather than “What for counterpoint?”
  2. Nonetheless they don’t really seem to imply any movement out of themselves, and for this reason I am frustrated. But perhaps I am being to hard on myself – there is a sense in which you could construe the continuation at each point as an implied one, but the implication is usually that of negation (gesture to resonance, fast notes to held trill, descending gesture to high tremolo).

The idea at bar 6

  1. My main concern with this is that the material in each line is inadequate in itself and the only real satisfaction comes through the registral stratification, which can be an easy way out.
  2. The fact that it emerges out of the blue is a gamble, I suppose not to be written off entirely, but I’m not convinced that it makes sense in the context. Does it need to be shorter to really point out that it is an aside? Is it already much too obvious what is going on? In fact, that is part of the whole problem of the piece. Because I didn’t want to replicate what I did in the previous two pieces, one of which was a more continuous polyphonic texture à la Carter, and the other more of a modern hocket, I was stuck a little. I blame also the instrumentation. It has been more difficult to conceive of a convincing contrapuntal texture between the instruments.

There are many more issues, and more general issues of pitch and motive and whatever, but this can suffice for now…

Duo 3