1983/86 GRAVITY’S DANCE for piano solo

GRAVITY’s DANCE (1983) for piano solo is based on a rock-solid program and partly the result of my ambition to take Xenakis’ composition Herma (1961) a few steps further. It consists of 5 movements, each with a sequence of five sections in a symmetrical order of complexity: the first containing only one ingredient; the second a mix of two; the third and middle combining three layers and therefore the most complex; the fourth reverting to two layers; and the last to one uniform ingredient again. The musical subject matter in each of these sequences however is not symmetrical but develops continuously. Per movement we have therefore:

5 sections in order of complexity:         I       –         II          –         III         –         II         –       I

and with musical subjects:                   A               B1+2           C1+2+3         D1+2              E

Needless to say that the musical content of subjects A to E changes in every next movement.

The title refers to a property of the pitch grids. Each grid is composed of two modules and has a point of symmetry, from which the intervals up are the mirror image of the intervals down. I kept these symmetry points hovering around the middle C of the piano and hence, symbolically, the harmonic field always has its centre of gravity near the middle C.

Gravity’s Dance is the result of a penchant for a certain pianism which was popular at the time – certainly amongst the serial composers and various other complex styles, such as the music of Xenakis. It approaches the piano as a large reservoir of sounds and the pianist as the operator who wields his fingers over an array of 88 keys. The music then takes on that typical spatial aspect which invites descriptions in terms of mass, density, texture, contour and their control.

Gravity’s Dance is also a study in harmonic control by establishing a relationship between a harmonic field (the pitch grids), tempo (i.e. speed) and rhythm. As mentioned before, the grids are constructions of two modules with a different interval as unit of displacement. The modules can be shifted in relation to each other, resulting in changes which resemble modulations. The following relationships were established: the larger the average interval of a grid, the slower the tempo; when intervals of fifths and fourths dominate, the rhythm is periodic – in all other cases a-periodicicity reigns; transpositions of grids and shifting of individual modules account for harmonic modulations.

Though the work is anything but easy to perform, the pianist René Eckhardt gave many heroic performances of it. The new, printed edition (1998) offers, graphically speaking, some improvement to the reading of the score in the hope that other pianists will take up the challenge. Ralph van Raat is the most recent daredevil to tackle this demanding, and in some ways perilous undertaking.

Gravity’s Dance can be played in conjunction with Khepera (or Athena Keramitis), Aura and Heterostase as the opening of the cycle ECLIPSE.