Continua for Orchestra
Robert Morris

Program Notes

Continua For Orchestra, written in 1969, first performed in 1972, represents the culmination of a particular compositional concern that occupied my musical thinking in the late sixties. It was then fashionable to consider a piece of music as determined by the interaction of various "parameters" such as pitch, loudness, timbre, etc. I was interested in how one could equate, thereby balance, changes in one parameter against changes in another. To this end, the precompositional plans of a work were quite general, and in principle any number of works could be generated from one such schedule or strategy. Continua was the most ambitious of these pieces and helped confirm and refine my musical hypotheses.

Looking back on the work from a different compositional stance leads me to hear the sonic surface as more spontaneous and intricate than the general trends which guide its evolution through time. I find the varieties of orchestral color and texture more permanent and personal than the long line of the work--although the form-shape of the whole is, I think, convincing.

The work is in nine movements some of which are quite static or immobile while others are complex and polytextural, often involving dramatic shifts of continuity and orchestration. Underlying this stream of processes and sound objects is the time-honored "dramatic curve" of Western art music--introduction, statement, climax, repose, development, final climax, and epilogue, a "narrative form" historically associated with Western orchestral concert music.