Four Tangled Groves (2008)
twelve instruments

Robert Morris

Program Notes

In this piece, I try out some new ensemble combinations. Four groups of heterogeneous instruments are separated on the stage, each playing various combinations and articulations of five unfolding strings of musical material. The combinations of these four “groves” (and twenty “vines”) are composed (tangled) in all the ways it is possible to start and end four ongoing processes. This happens twice in the piece, surrounding a slower, mainly harmonic section, which blends the groves together using only a single vine at a time. The outside sections are related so that what is sequenced in one is presented simultaneously in the other.

I thought of this piece as a complex overlap of musical textures, each of which both supports and blocks the perception of each other, and yet are permeable enough to be heard as both alone and together. (Hence the use of different kinds of instruments in each grove.) But after I finished the work—a new compositional juncture for me—it became increasingly obvious to me that my groves resemble and even repackage the polyphonic and polychoral music of the late Renaissance. Therefore, listening to this piece under the aegis of 16th century music is both useful and appropriate.