Shattered Lines/Points of Horizon 

for Piano (2009)

Duration: 10 minutes

Commissioned by Dustin Gledhill with support from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Orchestration: pf

Availability: For Sale; see perusal score below

Program Notes

Premiére: October 9, 2010 at Wigmore Hall (London, United Kingdom). Dustin Gledhill, piano.

Much of the music I composed between 2006-2010 is organized around a single musical plane: a flickering, regularly pulsating line, usually on the note “e.” For me, this has been a useful formal conceit, a malleable symbol and dramaturgical device. I used it first in my short song, Snow to depict the suffocating dread of being buried by winter and then again in my Violin Sonata No.1 to create an atmosphere of obsessive grief – it panics a Morse code message. In other works, like my Wind Quintet or a forth-coming orchestral work, I abandon any direct poetic affect for the purely architectural. In these works I treat the line as an axis and center of gravity; gestures emerge and orbit but are inevitably drawn back to the core. 

I continued to explore musical axis by considering Baroque ornamentation: trills, mordents, turns, port de voix, and appoggiaturas in all their national varieties. I began Shattered Lines/Points of Horizon as an abstract fantasy on French Baroque ornamentation but the work evolved into what a listener might hear as a series of six or seven large-scale, highly elaborated ornaments - super-mordents. I treat the various “e”s of the piano as seven highly ornamented planes: each “plane” is a series of notes pulsing regularly or irregularly depending on the individual range. The work begins at the highest “e,” descends and shortly grazes the lowest “e,” and settles at the “e” below middle “c.” The first planes unfold by gradually elaborated ornamentation, as the pianist descends ornamentation of the lower planes becomes gruff and brutal – the climax of the work is a kind of liquefaction to the simplest half-step trill. As the final planes unfold, ornamentation solidifies into structure: melody and harmony. 

As the work proceeds, a chord progression diagonally ascends and intersects these horizontal planes. Unlike the pulsing of the horizontal planes, this chord progression slowly and irregularly accelerates its ascent, begins again, ascends and then hovers slowly at the top of the piano before it gradually descends to the pulverizing climax of the work. At the end, the chords appear anew, juxtaposed against one another, now fixed and static as the last planes and ornaments disintegrate. 

I wrote this work for Dustin Gledhill. We both grew up in Utah and, as a teenager, I often watched him perform with the Utah Symphony. We both ended up in New York and became friends. The impetus for the work came out of several conversations about Couperin’s keyboard works – works Dustin and I both love. Composing it was made possible by a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

- Matthew Barnson