Microvariations

For flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, horn, trumpet, bass trombone, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass, piano, and timpani

Performed by Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Lorraine Vaillancourt, conductor, November 2016

In 1825, British conductor George Thomas Smart traveled across Europe and compared his A = 423.5hz tuning fork to the tuning of every musical group he could find. Some ensembles were perfectly in tune with his tuning fork, but others, especially around Vienna, were quite a bit higher and closer to today’s standard A = 440hz. Microvariations is a fast-forward and transcontinental sonic truncation and fantasy on Smart’s journey. Pieces that he probably heard, entire symphonies and sonatas of the common practice period, are distilled to their most skeletal, structural chord progressions and played at hyper speeds. Microvatiations begins with material similar to that in my string quartet Many Many Cadences: predictable tonal chord progressions recontextualized into fast cells that are constantly changing key. Microvariations situates the cadences in two different groups (“towns”) playing a quarter tone apart from one another, at first distinct and eventually congealing and blurring.