tree micro-photo 2 by Archie F. Wilson

Primitive Roots part 1 (2019)
soprano saxophone and piano

Robert Morris

Program Notes

Primitive Roots comes in two parts. Part one is for soprano saxophone and piano; Part two is for alto saxophone and piano. The two parts may be played alone, or one after the other (in either order).

I wrote these pieces in 2018-9 at the request of saxophonist Douglas O'Connor who has continually championed the composition of new works for his instrument.

The title comes from the way in which the pitch material of the piece was generated. Using a mathematical structure involving a "primitive root," I was able to compose a 36-note cycle that has some very interesting musical properties. For instance, if you take every other note of the cycle, you get the same cycle transposed by a semitone. Mathematical or not, "primitive root" captures the emotional character of the piece; this perhaps suggests that music that is wild and turbulent can also be elegant and refined at once.

Part two is uses the 36-note note-cycle to form various contrapuntal textures. Part one is derived from smaller cycles that can be extracted from the 36-tone cycle. These smaller cycles get longer as the piece goes on.