Pitched Percussion Quartet

When I began to compose my own music (as a self-taught teen), I started with choral settings, but I also felt that percussion music needed a core ensemble of pitched chromatic instruments like the string quartet, wind quintet, or brass quintet, to get away from the cliché of drum etudes. Undaunted by the timbral and gamut limitations of the pitched percussion instruments, I set out to write real music for a quartet of them. My first effort was Chiaroscuro. I am not aware of any other music for this ensemble except mine.

This is a monothematic, ABA-form etude in the whole-tone scale, at moderate tempo, with a fugal middle. (It is an elaboration of my very earliest piano etude, which I wrote at the age of 12 in the theory class of my piano teacher, Nellie Tholen.) One modest textural effect I invented was a melody in long single glockenspiel tones, enhanced by quiet fast rolls (tremolos) on the same notes in xylophone.

A special characteristic was my confident use of the kettledrums as a melodic instrument. And according to a later teacher who heard this piece, I apparently solved the problem of how to write a harmonic cadence in the whole tone scale. . . . The overall effect is ethereal.

ListenScoreTitleScoringDur.Year
view scoreAllegroglockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, timpani (4-5 pedal)5'1972
Order This»Colorful, rhythmic, motive-rich etude unfolding the potential of the pitched percussion quartet. Varied sonata form in diminished scale, built around opening motives; dance-like B tune in vibraphone. Bouncy changing meters and interweaving scale passages. First Prize, Aspen Festival Composition Competition 1972.Notes»
view scoreChiaroscuroglockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, timpani (4-5 pedal)5'1958/63
Order This»Ringing monothematic etude in whole-tone scale, moderate speed; fugal middle.Notes»
In the Summer of 1972, while studying conducting at the Aspen School, I had my first formal instruction in composition, under Charles Jones. I chose to flesh out my sketches for a more rhythmic and motive-rich piece for my cherished percussion quartet. The resulting Allegro is a thoroughly-worked-out, varied sonata form, more adventurous harmonically, generally using a Mideastern-sounding “diminished” scale (half-step/whole-step). At the final Aspen School competition, I and three other young pros played the piece, the legendary percussion teacher George Gaber conducted, and, to my astonishment, the piece took a first prize! This piece he also repeated at Indiana U, and there have been performances on both Coasts and  in the Netherlands