Edmund Scott Miller, composer

musicmiller.com

Organum – for two alto saxophones

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Extended program note:

Organum is a composition that borrows its name from the style of medieval sacred music characterized by drones and perfect intervals. However, it is important to note that this piece is not intended to be historical and no stylistic choices were made to align it with the practices of authentic organum. The music is constructed out of two main ideas: a ‘pendulum’ consisting of a chromatic scale fragment swinging down from concert E-flat to concert B-natural and back up, eventually coming to rest in the middle, on a concert D-flat; and a five-note tone row (E-flat – A – B-flat – D-flat) which provides most of the melodic material through a rotational process borrowed from Stravinsky (i.e. “Stravinsky Verticals”). Two similarities are immediately apparent: both musical ideas begin on E-flat and end (eventually) on D-flat, and both contain five different pitches. The second of these becomes the root for the form of the entire piece, the number five playing a significant role in every aspect of the musical development. There is a section of music for each note of the pendulum figure as it unfolds on the macro level. Rhythmic grouping of different numbers (1 through 5) conflict at each transition until 5 has ‘defeated’ 1-4. The pendulum figure only occurs explicitly in the beginning (while the tone row is being presented in retrograde), in the middle (over a D-flat drone, the eventual destination), and at the end (when the destination is finally reached).

An important theme in this piece is the natural versus the artificial. This is embodied respectively in the ‘organic’ pendulum figure versus serial composition techniques as well as the free, meterless flow of the piece versus the exactitude of certain rhythms. 

 

Performed here by the incredible Jacob Swanson and Sarah Marchitelli:

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