Forty Fingers (2013)
two pianos, eight hands

Robert Morris

Program Notes

Forty Fingers is my second two-piano composition for four pianists. (The first is called The Eight Hand Way.) While such an ensemble might seem too much of a good thing, there are some very beautiful and subtle textures and gestures that can emanate from registral selections from the entire range of the piano and stereophonically from right and left (on stage). 

Forty Fingers tries to capture these delightful passages of piano-sound by being structured so that every combination of the four players (from one to four) contributes to from one to four strands of sound. So for instance, there is a section where all four pianists play the same strand; another section is scored for three pianists playing two strands, with two pianists playing one strand, and the other playing the second; a section where only one pianist plays (one strand); etc. There are 53 ways this can happen and each occurs once in the piece. The strands can be harmonic, melodic, gestural, heterophonic, single pitched, dense, sparse, and so forth.

The piece is completely derived from one class of six-tone chord, called “B” in music theory—also found in jazz harmony. One of the chords in this class is (C D D# E F G)--all the others are transpositions. I find this chord-type very beautiful, especially in wide spacings; and although I do not have synesthesia, I somehow associated it with a rich and dark green color. Forty Fingers was written in the early months of 2013 and finished when the trees and grass turned green again.