Dancing with Gravity

for violin, viola, cello, and piano

premiered April 25, 2000

Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players
Christ & St. Stephen's Church, New York


It is appropriate that the title "Dancing with Gravity" brings to mind simultaneously dancing with a serious demeanor and the nearly opposite image of Fred Astaire, whose effortless flying around the room suggest not mere weightlessness, but a giddy and joyous playing with and against gravity. Some of that kind of giddy joy is alluded to at points in the piece where a straightforward steady beat in one voice is challenged by an opposing tempo in another. Initially revolving around the first as a syncopation, the new tempo often takes over the show, after sometimes prolonged playful or contentious interaction. As a cello student in the late 1970’s I spent many months studying and rehearsing Messaien’s Quartet for the End of Time. Messaien’s personal modal harmonic language of the time of the Quartet results in many deliciously surprising combinations of familiar triadic sonorities as well as unique harmonies quintessentially Messaien. I have since repeatedly found inspiration in this piece, in its procedures, and in its connections with older music. The harmonic language of "Dancing with Gravity" tips its hat to that of Messaien’s Quartet with its own kind of modal background. Though much of the piece is fairly chromatic, the major triads which appear hidden in melodic details throughout the piece eventually overwhelm the piece.

score excerpt