If you are in the central Piedmont this evening, stop by to hear clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein perform my Three Inventions, a piece from another eon, aka my student days.  Alan Kay did the premiere, way back when.  Alexander, member of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and 2009 Avery Fischer Career Grant winner, is performing it on his debut recital as our newest faculty member.  Full story here.

Three Inventions is a set of studies for solo clarinet:

  • Changes (Prelude)
  • Lines (Sarabande)
  • Points (Fugue)

Changes (Prelude) is one of several pieces I wrote in the mid-80s that explored the intersection between minimalism and change-ringing.  A pattern of pitches is repeated over and over, with one note substituted on each repetition.  The last note of each recurrence of the pattern gets an explosive accent to signal a new beginning – and to give the music an off-kilter rhythmic charge (there is no meter, just sixteenths, eighths and dotted-eighths in constantly shifting combinations).

Lines (Sarabande) takes advantage of the clarinet’s ability to shift registers without breaks in the sound.  A gradually expanding chromatic scale is splintered into different octaves to create several interweaving lines.  The whole thing is in a slow, triple-meter, with emphasis on the second beat – the traditional pulse of the sarabande.

The last invention is a four-voice fugue.  The subject is a series of staccato jabs – the “points” of the title.  The spaces between these points are filled with three, independently introduced countersubjects, in classic fugal manner.  Everything you would expect from a fugue is here – inversion, augmentation, stretto, etc. — but all played by a single instrument.

I’m tempted to say that the fact that I’m able to write about this music in purely technical terms – something I would never do with pieces I’ve written in the last twenty years or so — is indicative of a shift in cultural emphasis from the mid-80s to now.  But I think it’s safer to say that the shift is a personal one, whatever may have been happening culturally.  As a student, I thought of my music primarily in technical terms.  Later, the technical means took a back seat to other artistic interests.

Oh, and a disclaimer: no multiphonics or other extended techniques were harmed in the making of this composition.

One Response to “Changes”
  1. I would definitely be interested in seeing this piece. Good luck with Fiterstein. Although we don’t know each other, we have a number of mutual friends. Every single one, without fail or reservations, has had glowing things to say about him and his playing.


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