Four Voices in Three Voices
piano solo

Robert Morris

Program Notes

I composed Four Voices in Three Voices in the fall of 1984, while on a sabbatical leave from the Eastman School of Music. I had been practicing a few of the late Intermezzi of Brahms, appreciating their modest scope and pianistic demands while emersing myself in their deep and complex musical sensibility. About the same time, I had found a solution to a minor structural problem that had inhibited certain compositional possibilities in my music, and I wanted to implement the solution in a short piece of music. The result was the third movement of this four movement piano piece. the compositional realization led quickly to other passages of music which I used in the other three movements.

In fact, each of the four pieces are actually variations of each other, but this is not obvious; I sought to make each piece in the set have its own musical personality or voice, something I admire in Brahms' music. The progression, but not the style, of the four was designed to project the overall affective disposition of early nineteenth-century sonata; the first movement is stern and formal; the second, a jazz-like scherzo; the third, a lyrical adagio; and the fourth, a bright, quick-spirited finale. The listener will probably notice the frequent use of major and minor triads in the music. While this certainly conjures up the sound of older music, the harmonic language in my piece is actually based on a six-note chord which, while non-tonal in itself, is highly related to typical progressions in tonal music.

The three voices of the title are the contrapuntal voices of the solution to my compositional problem; but these voices are often split into more than three strands producing a fuller, even Romantic, piano sonority. Only in the third movement are the voices clear as such--in the highest, lowest and middle ranges of the piano.