Steve Reich: Music for Pieces of Wood
Ted Babcock, percussion
Won Suk Lee, percussion
Neil Rao, percussion
Yibing Wang, percussion
Shiqi Zhong, percussion
Performed on Friday, May 15, 2015
Field Concert Hall, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia
The driving idea behind “minimalist” music is that an element typically insignificant or overlooked in another compositional style is placed in the forefront, thereby illuminating the musical significance of what might otherwise be heard as mundane. A single harmonic change from one chord to another would not be an event in music by Brahms or Mozart, since their music involved hundreds or even thousands of harmonic changes in a single piece, but if there were only one chord change per minute, that harmonic transition would have greater weight in the overall context of the piece. Minimalist composers like Steve Reich went even further and proved that one could remove all harmonic and melodic structure completely, leaving the listener to focus solely on rhythms that are engaging and complex, while still essentially simple.
The composer provides the following note:
Music for Pieces of Wood grows out of the same roots as Clapping Music: a desire to make music with the simplest possible instruments. The claves, or cylindrical pieces of hard wood, used here were selected for their particular pitches (A, B, C-sharp, D-sharp, and D-sharp an octave above), and for their resonant timbre. This piece is one of the loudest I have ever composed, but uses no amplification whatsoever. The rhythmic structure is based entirely on the process of rhythmic “build-ups” or the substitution of beats for rests, and is in three sections of decreasing pattern length: 6/4, 4/4, 3/4.