The Eggman Variations

Program notes

I tend to think of musical style as a relatively superficial matter. When I listen to Mozart, Charlie Parker, or contemporary rock music, I hear beautiful melodies, surprising harmonies, and infectious rhythmic ideas. When I compose, I try to reach a place where all the music I love comes together—where ideas from the classical tradition encounter ideas from the world of rock and jazz, blending together and cross-pollinating in unimagined ways. If my music is challenging, it is not because it is dissonant or rhythmically off-kilter; instead, it’s because of the strange combination of familiar and the unfamiliar. The music has its origin in the fantasy that we have inherited a single, continuous, unfragmented musical tradition.

The Eggman Variations is in three movements. The first, Pentatonia, is infused with the sounds of Asian music. After a slow and relatively gentle opening, it gradually builds in intensity, reaching its climax at the movement’s end. Its melodic and harmonic materials tend to have five notes; some of these pentatonic scales and chords are borrowed from other cultures, while others are not. The piece ends with a loud, low note that rings into the second movement.

The second movement, Bent, layers rock clichés on top of one another, while the strings slide from note to note. The movement opens slowly, leads to a hectic middle section, and ends by re-examining the materials of the opening in a gently pulsating rhythmic context. Just before the end, the Eggman appears and an En(i)ggma is resolved.

The title of the last movement came to me first. I wrote in my journal a picture of a single thickened, burbling musical line moving up and down the staff—my attempt to capture the idea of a “roiling worm of sound.” If the piece makes you feel like you’re running after a train that is always just beyond your reach, then it has had its intended effect. Enjoy the workout!

Instrumentation: Piano Quintet

Performers: Ursula Oppens with the Pacifica Quartet