Rube Goldberg Variations

Program notes

Rube Goldberg Variations was inspired by the kinetic sculptures of the surrealist artist Jean Tinguely--strange robots, ranging in size from a toaster to a small building, that quiver and vibrate and ring and move for no apparent purpose. The piece is written for the unusual combination of brass quintet and prepared piano--that is, a piano whose sound has been modified by the insertion of various foreign objects into its strings. In this piece, the preparations include pencils, metal washers, guitar picks, and "blue tac" (used for hanging posters on walls). Over the course of the four movements the preparations are gradually removed so that the traditional sound of the piano shines forth.

The first movement, "To A Leaf," is a love song to one of autumn’s earliest victims. "Stravinsky Fountain" imagines a kind of musical robot. "Homage" is based on my dim recollections of a piece I heard more than 20 years ago, which somehow stayed with me; I tried to capture the sound that was in my memory rather than the music itself (which I carefully avoided). "Father Makes the World" is slow and dreamy and solemn, a mixture of biblical creation story and my own experience with fatherhood.

Instrumentation: Brass quintet and prepared piano