Anthony Green (piano) and Neal Postma (alto sax) premiering Verbinding
at Cité de la musique et de la dans in Strasbourg, France, 10 July 2015
Verbinding ~ 32 apophthegms inspired by the Goldberg Variations (2015) was commissioned by Neal Postma for the World Sax Open 2015 in Strasbourg, France. Its title encompasses the three main meta ideas that form the primary and secondary foundations of the work. The primary foundation is Bach's masterpiece, Goldberg-Variationen, BWV 988; the secondary foundation comes from the translation of the Dutch word verbinding, which means both "connection" and "combination." Using Goldberg as a starting point, Verbinding explores various connections and combinations of macro and micro counterpoint between extended techniques and sound worlds or textures. Incorporating vocal sounds and theatrics, Verbinding attempts to weave visual textures as well as the idea of expectation into its contrapuntal exploration. This work extends my interest in what I like to refer to as thematic and historic abstractification, which is essentially a hyper musical analysis of either an original theme or work, or one from another composer. Another work which explores this idea rather clearly is Scintillation III (2015) for bass clarinet and marimba, which is based on a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat called Eroica, and uses Beethoven's Eroica theme for much of the body of the work.
Unlike Scintillation III - which expands a short theme into about 8 minutes worth of music, Verbinding transforms a work that lasts more than an hour without repeats into about 14 minutes of music. The first step to achieving this was to analyze the proportions of the original work, and shrink each part of the Goldberg Variations to fit into the shorter time frame. After this was accomplished, I created a timeline reflecting this shrinkage, and made it so that notes about the aria and the variations could be written within each section. During this process, there were some enlighting discoveries about the Goldberg Variations that I never noticed before, particularly in terms of long-term relationships, Bach's use of the minor-mode, and the "outlier" variations which seem to work in a completely different manner than the typical variations (such as the short fugue, or the variation with two distinct sections, or the longest of the variations, which is minor and highly chromatic). Additionally, upon a visual production/reduction of the work, the meta-structure of the Goldberg Variations became much more transparent; a counterpoint emerged between the outer arias (the theme and da capo), the canonical variations, and the filler variations, all of which have a distinct character while simultaneously remaining true to the theme. Upon completing this mostly visual analysis, I knew how to proceed with Verbinding.
The basic approach of structural compression immediately justified incorporating a reversal of elements of the Goldberg Variations. The elements I chose to reverse were based mainly upon the cognition of the work's trajectory. For example, during the creation of the timeline with notes about the original work, I labelled each section of the Goldberg Variations as "slow" or "fast", and reversed this element for Verbinding. Furthermore, since my language is not tonal, I recognized that Bach's use of the minor mode in this piece is rare and always comes as quite a surprise. Therefore, in a mostly textural, "sound world" work, a bold statement of a major mode would be more surprising, hence my reversal of this element of the Goldberg Variations. At this point in the process, meter changes were also determined in an attempt to stay as close to the original proportions as possible. This scheme created a visual metric skeleton to this work, which I have never before created in a previous piece.
To create the outer sections, I compressed all of the notes of Bach's original aria, creating clusters upon which an improvisatory saxophone creates sound and statement. The voice also interrupts as a modern commentary, as well as a foreshadowing/binding idea. The piece then proceeds to unfold with modernized interpretations of the variations, which include well-justified musical quotation, new unfoldings of basic ideas, musical commentary on Glen Gould's interpretation of the Goldberg Variations (which I used to determine the proportions of the work), and theater. For example, Bach's canonical variations rely on an intervallic expansion as the piece progresses. In Verbinding, this basic idea is stripped down to gestures that are essentially the same for the piano and the saxophone, but separated intervallically using the same structural intervalic development that Bach uses. In Verbinding however, I reversed the manner in which Bach uses a ground base.
Having been reluctant to work with Theme and Variation form in the past, both Scintillation III and Verbinding are two creatively surprising works in my repertoire, even though they are not technically Theme and Variation works. After composing Scintillation III, I tried to think of other single-movement works that contain a modernized set of variations on an unstated-yet-well-known theme, but could not find any. Furthermore, solidly labelling Verbinding as a work of Theme and Variations would not make sense mainly because the theme would be the entirety of the Goldberg Variations (again unstated) and Verbinding would be merely one variation. Yet, it would be ignorant of me not to affirm that these works come from the practice of Theme of Variation, hence the labelling within these works that imply this historical correlation. In Scintillation III, the section that heavily incorporates Beethoven's surprising and witty Eroica theme is labelled X (10) Refractive Lessons from "Eroica" because each "lesson" musically refracts a compositional characteristic of this theme (for example, its sparse musical environment, a statement made three times in close proximity, a soft statement held for a proportionately lengthy time, its contour, etc...). In Verbinding, each section is referred to as an apophthegm - a concise statement. In compressing the Goldberg Variations and using its structure to compose a work of modern commentary, I have essentially made one giant, relatively concise musical statement about Bach's genius BWV 988, and this statement consists of 32 small statements. Apophthegms, if you will.
Clip 1 - excerpt of sections 1 through 9; here you can hear the unison and second canonical analogues, as well as a quotation of Beethoven's Sonata Op. 109, which quotes the corresponding variation from the Goldberg Variations in its last movement theme and variations
Clip 2 - excerpt of sections 25 through 28; this sample begins with the octave canonical analogue and ends with the ninth. In between is the massive, frantic analogue of the longest, most chromatic, minor variation of the Goldberg Variations. As you can hear, it begins with a statement of a major triad, in the same vain as the other minor analogue sections of Verbinding.
Score sample (.pdf): Click Here!