Moments of Inertia

for flute, viola, and cello

premiered May 4, 2003

Dinosaur Annex:

Suellen Hershman, flute; Anne Black, viola; Michael Curry, cello

“Through much of Tom Flaherty's Moments of Inertia (2003) one felt a sort of love/hate relationship with the blandishments of minimalism. "With Quiet Turbulence," its first part, could have gone on for eons with its doo-dah oscillations but weaved a beautiful lyric line instead. The metrical shifts of "Uneasy Lullaby" would have kept any normal child up past midnight, but he wouldn't have been bored. "With Headlong Agitation," as it turned out, was an excellent title for the self-possessed, purposeful finale. As serious-minded divertimentos go (not a bursting genre), this was a winner, and satisfying to hear.” [Dinosaur Annex]
– Richard Buell, The Boston Globe
“Moments of Inertia (2003) by Tom Flaherty contains three movement’s worth of neo-process patterned accompaniments out of which various fetching melodies emerge. As in Steve Reich’s best music, these planes of textured backing interact well with each other, deftly delineating larger structural units. And the sound world is irresistible, making scintillating use of its flute-viola-cello trio. In brief, it’s an absolute must-hear.” [Dinosaur Annex]
– David Cleary, New Music Connoisseur

In English, "moments of inertia" might be taken to be points in time with little motion, or with continuing motion. In physics, a moment of inertia has to do with angular momentum, a tendency of an object to rotate at a frequency related to the distribution of its mass from the axis of rotation. (A spinning figure skater pulling her arms in will speed up with no further effort.) Both of these meanings seem relevant. In this piece, or at least in the first two movements, I can imagine a spinning skater moving her arms in curious ways, spinning fast and slow, while remaining in one spot on the ice.

In the first movement, "With quiet turbulence," the meter is defined by a simple melody in the flute, while the viola and cello background motive implies something else. The conflict results in a curious sense of both motion and stasis. The compulsive background motive eventually commandeers the entire movement, insisting upon its own meter, with several possible downbeats for the ear to choose from. "Uneasy lullaby" gently rocks between 6/8 and 3/4, a simpler sort of ambiguity. "With headlong agitation" tosses all ambiguity to the wind with relentless forward motion.

Moments of Inertia was commissioned by Dinosaur Annex for its 26th season.

score excerpt I

score excerpt II

score excerpt III