CHAMBER MUSIC piano quartet
1 violin, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 piano
Duration: ca. 7 minutes
Programme Note: Four Degrees of Freedom, for piano quartet, was written in the spring of 1995. It was commissioned by the Millennium Chamber Music Society through a grant from the Canada Council, and was premiered by Martin Beaver, Scott St. John, Shauna Rolston, and Rena Sharon. The title refers to the principles of motion that the natural world displays. The degrees of freedom are the number of ways a particular part of nature can express its energy of motion, and is usually dependent on its interaction with other elements. Even though a part of nature may appear bound to follow some path, or even motionless, it can still have internal degrees of freedom.
Our own lives reflect this in many ways. We are held physically to this earth by gravity, and consciously to our society by duty, responsibility, belief, and law. Even though it appears that the dimensions of our personal freedom diminishes with each constraint placed upon us, we are still able, if we choose, to explore our internal degrees of freedom. Mohandis Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi have remarked that, although imprisoned, they never felt completely without liberty because they were always free to think.
From this inspiration comes 7 minutes of music. The piece opens with short solos where each player tests the boundaries of their musical space; sometimes
violently, sometimes with reserve. The thematic material moves, spins, and pulsates, but is kept in place by firmly accented chords and an ostinato which is clock-like. There are moments when the illusion of freedom is entirely convincing; where tempo, metre, even harmonic language, evaporate as the performers exercise their freedom. Other moments, they remain fused together as if somehow a united effort will allow them to break through the musical space. Although the musicians are obligated to follow the notes, the performing directions, and the longstanding traditions of the craft, each has an internal degree of freedom that allows every performance to be unique. To quote Margaret Atwood, “there is only one of everything”.
Premiere: First performance by Martin Beaver, Scott St. John, Shauna Rolston, and Rena Sharon Cumberland, Ontario, September 29, 1995
Prizes/Awards: Winner: Maryland Composer’s Competition 1998
Recording(s): Recorded by Land’s End Chamber Ensemble, Dark Matter Productions