Improvisation Matrix (1978)

Duration:  Open
For any instrument or combination of instruments

Commissioned by The University of Texas at Dallas
Premiere Performance:  September 30, 1978; UTD Collegium Musicum;
RXR, Conductor


Composer’s Note:

Improvisation Matrix is an open-form composition in which instrumentation and length are not specified and in which the performer(s) may determine the exact rhythms, pitches and dynamics to be played.  The score is in two parts:  1) a page of motives, harmonies and rhythms, which the players are to use exclusively as the basis for improvisation upon 2) a scenario in five episodes which describe a series of musical/dramatic events:  beginning with “Fp opening, short dramatic motifs,” building to “Climax:  return of dramatic opening motives with longer note values” and ending with “Quiet, slow repetition of motives.”  The five episodes are divided into nine time units:  Episode I – one unit, II – two units, III – two units, IV – three units, V – one unit.  The overall length of the piece must be determined in advance so that the proportions of each section may be observed; for instance, one minute per time unit will produce an overall length of nine minutes. 

Except in solo versions of the work, in which one performer assumes all roles in the scenario, a leader is selected from among the performers for each movement.  The leader, through his/her playing, guides the other players during the episode and determines the rate at which they move through the various events in the scenario.  The other player(s) may offer slight resistance to the leader by occasionally playing music of a character different from the main trend; but for the most part all players are to follow the leader, imitating him/her motivically and joining in the main rise and fall of the movement up to the climax, through the spinning out and on to the resolution-closing, which is marked in most sections by some kind of repetition.  In episodes II, III and V, an opposition leader or foil is also selected to lead the music more actively away from the main trend.  All remaining players, including the leader, may at first be temporarily swayed by the foil and may imitate the material he/she plays; however, by halfway through the movement the leader unifies the players, even the foil, to the extent that they offer only the slightest resistance, if any.  The leader and foil may retain their roles through all five episodes, or different ones may be designated for each.  Either way, all performers must know in advance who the leaders are before each section begins.  The first notes of the piece are played by the leader of episode one, who clearly indicates the end of the first section in order for the next section and leader to begin. 

In larger groups a conductor may “direct” the performance.  His/her authority may range from minimal – starting and stopping and signaling to the group and the leader(s) for each new section to begin – to more active – to the extent of indicating accents, dynamics, entrances, cutoffs, of even more detailed information such as register or choice of instrument (as in the case of a player who is playing more than one instrument). 


The five episodes or movements must be played without pause.

I. Prologue:  Adagio serioso (one time unit)

fp opening, short dramatic motifs, staggered entrances
Peaceful long tines
Short expressive motifs emerging over the long tones
Quiet repetition to stabilize end of section
Optional cadenza

II. Andante espressivo/Foil:  Allegro giocoso (two time units)

Long lyrical lines, at first without much tension
Frequent subito piano to make crescendos as tension develops
Forceful repetition to build to small crisis
Small climax:  suddenly longer note values
Gentle spinning out
Quiet repetition to stabilize end of section
Optional cadenza

III. Scherzo:  Allegro giocoso/Foil:  Andante espressivo (two time units)

Thin texture, motivic fragments separated by rests
Motion becomes continuous, but with irregular accents
Forceful repetition to build to small crisis
Small climax:  repetition turns to trills
Light and rapid spinning out
Quiet but rapid repetition to stabilize end of section
Optional cadenza

IV. Allegro serioso (three time units)

Reminiscence of lyrical material with agitated resistance
Reminiscence of scherzo material with lyrical resistance
Forceful, more agitated repetition of both generates conflict; powerful crescendo builds to crisis
Climax:  return of dramatic opening motifs with longer note values
Beginning of gradual, dignified spinning out
Weakened return of climactic motives; trills return
Continuation of gradual, dignified spinning out
Optional cadenza

V. Epilogue:  Adagio tranquillo/Foil:  Poco scherzando e delicato (one time unit)

Return to lyrical section
Return of long tones with shorter lyrical fragments
Long tones alone
Quiet, slow repetition of stabilize ending