Kindred Pieces

This is a series of piano works composed between 2001 and 2006 which share material in some way. These mutual resemblances reflect my own compositional journey, rather than any intention to create an overarching form. I have grouped the pieces together years after writing them. The opening six notes of Oxford & Augusta determine the content of that piece, return in Trinity and in different variations are the generative cells of both Ardour and Sleepsong. The idea of descending parallel progressions recurs throughout the series.

I. Oxford & Augusta
II. In Another Life
III. Trinity
IV. Ardour (Barefoot Across the Sun)
V. Peripeteia (Impromptu)
VI. Osun Light
VII. Sleepsong

Oxford & Augusta (2001) is one of my simplest pieces. It consists entirely of three- and six-note melodic patterns layered in note-on-note canons. The entire piece is generated from the opening six notes, three ascending followed by three descending. Durations are uniform; the first section is all in quarter notes, followed by a section in eighth notes and one in half notes. The monochrome, binary nature of the material brought to mind a crossroads. That image could have described my life at the time; thus, the title is the intersection at which I was living, near the heart of Kensington Market. Recorded April 2016, Roland digital piano direct to file.

In Another Life (2002) was originally a song. I also found its repeated figure, ascending sevenths alternating with descending seconds, interesting enough to make the accompaniment its own piece. The music oscillates, descends and eventually ascends in progressions of parallel chords. Harmonic ambiguity is created through the use of voicing, register and pedal notes. Recorded October 2015, Roland digital piano direct to file.

Trinity (2003, dated 03 03 03) is a dark piece with a brooding, melodramatic feel. Figures from Oxford & Augusta and In Another Life appear in a mode that mixes natural and harmonic minor, with some altered tonality toward the end. There is a recurring motif consisting of six-note chords which return in varied, symmetrical voicings later in the set Kindred Pieces, in which this work is included. Recorded May 2003, Korg 01/WFD.

Ardour (Barefoot Across the Sun) (2004) consists of seven short variations using the six notes of the opening (an iteration of the cell from Oxford & Augusta) as a ground bass. The first variation uses a repeated figure similar to the one from In Another Life, slightly more developed. The third variation features a Reich-style canon at the octave between the two hands. The next two variations fuse elements of Reich and Glass. This is followed by a variation with ascending arpeggi, then one with six-note chords. The final, very brief variation is a note-on-note canon on the six-note cell. Recorded October 2004, Korg 01/WFD. Photo: Krista Ellis.

Peripeteia (Impromptu) (2006) was recorded the evening of Whitney Houston’s tragic passing in February 2012. It is a single, live take with no edits. The title refers to a turning point moment in my own life at the time this piano miniature was composed. The piece uses only six pitches throughout – A, B, C, D, E, F# – i.e. G major, with no G. I like the tint of this hexatonic, quasi-Dorian mode and explore it in a naively spectralist, faintly gospel chorale in the first section. The six notes are heard clearly as pedal points in the bass once the ictus (pulse) doubles for the second section. The influence in the second section is the Prelude No. 1 in C major from Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier by J. S. Bach, in the sense that the music is expressed as a succession of melodic patterns with identical rhythm and similar shape but changing harmony and intervals — a classic baroque sequence. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, sort of thing. Roland digital piano direct to file.

Osun Light (2006, dated 06 06 06) was composed during a critical time; in this case upon learning I was to become a parent for the first time. The piece is based on a seven-note circle of fourths (or fifths), a set of intervals which has provided the harmonic foundation for a great deal of Western music, from the Baroque through 20th century jazz and pop. I employ the series throughout – sometimes as a bassline, sometimes as a melodic ostinato, sometimes both simultaneously. Near the beginning there are seven block chords, each consisting of seven notes, that form the vertical basis for what follows. Recorded April 2013, Roland digital piano direct to file.

Sleepsong (2006) is the first music I wrote for my older daughter. The title reflects my interest in the dream world and its relation to waking life. At close to twelve minutes long, the piece begins as a lullaby and passes frequently through different moods, energy states and types of motion. It consists of sixteen short modules which flow together; the ordering of these modules was part of the compositional process. The complexity of design is offset by an aesthetic of audible simplicity. The music remains in rhythmically regular 3/4 time and uses only the notes of the G major scale throughout. Once again, the opening six notes are the basic generative cell for everything that follows. Recorded November 2008, Korg 01/WFD.

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2016


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