I-IV-V-I for violin, cello and vibraphone (2011)


The first piece of 2011 is finally here. I had taken a break for a bit after writing dharmachakramudra, but had recently began to toy with a very basic musical scheme: the sequence I-IV-V-I, which is basic to much tonal music. It’s also extremely banal-basically, that sequence consists of triads beginning with the first tone of a scale, then the fourth, fifth and back to the first tones, respectively. In C major, this would be CEG/FAC/GBD/CEG. Very boring. Or one could simply just include the root notes (C-F-G-C) with or without the corresponding fifth above.

As I said, very dull and boring, but this is what so much tonal music has been based upon for hundreds of years. So I saw it as a bit of a challenge-could I do a work with repetitive structures that largely, if not exclusively, consisted of those tones?

The result is a new piece, which I figured I’d title I-IV-V-I. It’s scored for violin, cello and vibraphone, so in that way it somewhat superficially resembles dharmachakramudra. But there’s actually little resemblance; I-IV-V-I is a pretty repetitive, motoric work, whereas dharmachakramudra is brief and almost static.

Like a lot of my works, I-IV-V-I started off as an improvisation. I came up with it at home in Wyncote as a seven-minute improv, and that morphed into what is now a 25-minute work in three nights in Palo Alto last week; I did some minor tweaking once back home, and I think the work is now done.

I had initially recorded it using Finale 2011, but some of the audio sounded muddled to me. Finale is really hit or miss in terms of audio, although their samples are really good in general. I decided to give it a go with Reason, and while the strings are not as good, it sounds better overall, I think. The MP3 file is here; the score is here.