25 is in five movements, all played attacca. The five movements are themselves each broken into five sections, as follows:
I. Introduction, in which a primary, twelve-note chord of the piece is presented; its five smaller sections begin with that chord plucked a single time.
II. Sonata (after Scarlatti, K. 26), in which the five smaller sections correspond to the traditional sections of sonata-allegro form: 1) introduction, 2) exposition, 3) repeat of the exposition (varied), 4) development and 5) recapitulation (substantially varied). This last section also serves as a transition to
III. Passacaglia (after Haydn, Op. 51, No. 5), based on the fifth quartet from Haydn’s Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross): “Sitio,” or “I thirst.” While some music from the Haydn is actually quoted in this piece, I was more interested in the history of the piece, which appeared as a quartet, a work for orchestra, and a cantata for voices and orchestra. The idea of the passacaglia came from comparing Haydn’s quartet and voices with orchestra versions; in the latter, he composed vocal parts that are superimposed on the original music which is sounded throughout without variation. Appended at the end of Haydn’s complete work is a brief fast movement marked “Il terremoto,” which I imitate in the fifth section of this third movement.
IV. Intermezzo (after Janáček, Second Quartet, III). This movement is abstractly related to its inspiring movement, with almost no clear musical references made to it. This particular movement of Janáček’s has always fascinated me due to its patchwork approach to form. In it, Janáček features sharp juxtapositions of tempi and melodic ideas, and the forward motion of the movement is produced through an almost magical intent, rather than through any kind of traditional sense of tension-release or melodic repetition, or even harmonic trajectory. In my movement, I use five distinct tempi (corresponding to the five smaller sections) that are juxtaposed.
V. Blumen (after Schumann, Waldscenen). This movement serves a dual function: to recapitulate materials heard first in the Introduction, in their original forms, and to act as a remembrance of events outside the work as well. There are clear quotations from two movements of Schumann’s late piano masterpiece that I experience, in the context of my work, as recalling earlier events in the piece, even though these prior events never took place. The fifth section of this movement is marked “Epilogue,” and serves as a final benediction.
In addition to the works mentioned above, Chopin’s Op. 28 set of preludes for solo piano served as a source of inspiration. Chopin’s work is itself part of a tradition going back at least to Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys that make up the two volumes of the Well-Tempered Clavier. In each volume, Bach proceeds chromatically through the 12 major and minor keys, beginning with C major, then C minor, then C-sharp major, then C-sharp minor, etc., until the final pair of prelude and fugue in B minor. The structure is open-ended, that is, it fails to complete the circle back to C major. It is implied that the work could be repeated indefinitely.
Chopin’s set of 24 preludes moves through all major and minor keys as well, but rather than moving chromatically up the scale and setting parallel majors and minors beside one another, Chopin moves about the circle of fifths and instead pairs relative majors and minors. Thus, in the Chopin, the first prelude is in C major, then A minor, then G major, then E minor, etc., until the final prelude in D minor. Again, the circle is incomplete, and the structure is open-ended.
My quartet began by my deciding on a comparable structure—one that is predictable and yet incomplete. What emerged was a set of 25 mini-movements, grouped into fives, which feature a large-scale symmetrical opening of the pitch-space, beginning very narrowly and expanding to its greatest range by the last group of five. Within each group of five, one mini-movement may jump to a later (larger) or earlier (smaller) range. The chord comprising all twelve pitches that is heard at the outset of the work serves as a marker for each movement. It is heard five times in the first movement, ten in the second, 15 in the third, 20 in the fourth, and 25 in the fifth.
25 was commissioned by Market Square Concerts and Lois Lehrman Grass to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Market Square Concerts and its founder, Lucy Miller Murray. All of the works referenced in my quartet hold special memories for Lucy—she suggested some ten or twelve to me from which I chose the above. Waldscenen was the first work performed on the first Market Square Concerts recital, and the Chopin Preludes was the last work on the final recital of the 25th season; in their honor, these works have pride of place in mine.
That my work is in 25 short movements obviously relates to the fact that it was premiered in the 25th season of Market Square Concerts, but this was serendipitous. My original plan was to write a work in 24 + 1 movements; 24 referencing the structure of the Chopin Preludes, with the last movement (the +1) highlighting the incomplete nature of the structure itself, referenced above. As well, perhaps it acts as “and one to grow on”: a simple birthday wish for a great organization.