This Picture Seems to Move

Program notes

This Picture Seems to Move is one of my earliest pieces, written when I was a beginning graduate student in 1999. Compared to my later music, it is more straightforward and in the pocket: rather than playing with genres, or drawing on influences from popular music, it is willfully and assertively traditional. (It is interesting that this traditional quality is a sign of youth, a reflection of my perhaps-naive hope that the ideas of Schubert and Janacek could be made to sound as freshly expressive as those of Ligeti or Steve Reich—after all, in earlier times, it was the old people who wrote the traditional music!) There is something about the piece that I keep coming back to, a kind of unguarded sincerity that I admire more and more the older and more sophisticated I get.

When I was writing the piece, I was thinking about two things. First, that contemporary tonal composition had lost some of the richness of early twentieth-century music. There is something powerful and intellectual and systematic about the music of Debussy, Ravel, and the early Stravinsky, something that had occasional echoes in postwar jazz, but (I felt) often missing in contemporary notated music. (This idea eventually became an important theme in my book.) Second, that the audience for notated music—the people who go to hear string quartets, orchestras, solo pianists, and so on—still largely revolves around the classics of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. (As a performer friend once told me, "I have one slot on my programs for a twentieth-century piece, which means that you’re essentially in competition with Bartok for this real estate.") I wanted to write a piece that reached back to the unfinished project of early twentieth-century tonality, one that could live in the central core of a concert program, rather than jostling for the slot reserved for "take your medicine" modern music.

Instrumentation: String Quartet

Performers: The T'Ang Quartet