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Ritual IIIb (2019)     

for clarinet solo, cello, piano, and percussion

Ritual IIIb is a reworking of Ritual IIIa (commissioned by Continuum Contemporary Music for the inaugural Ontario tour of the HATCH ensemble)

-Performed by Meng Zhang, Joëlla Becker, I-Hsiang Chao, and Liam McManus, cond. Daniel Brottman, Eastman School of Music; Rochester, New York, November 2019


Ritual IIIb is the fourth in my Ritual series of works—each informed to some extent by the structures, syntaxes and performance practices of various East Asian ceremonial musics—and is a reworking of material from Ritual IIIa, scored for the same instrumentation and commissioned by Continuum Contemporary Music (Toronto) as part of the inaugural 2019 Ontario tour of the HATCH ensemble. Of central importance in both works is the use of what may be termed structural heterophony; that is, a kind of variation practice which is based solely on the ornamentation and elaboration of a single “melodic” line, with minimal regard for its implied harmonic structure or harmonic rhythm (and thus differing considerably from standard Western variation practice as exemplified by Bach’s use of a purely harmonic theme in the Goldberg Variations, for instance). In essentially all the various strains of the ancient Zhou dynasty musical rite diaspora (gagaku, aak, etc.), heterophony—the vertical stratification of similar but heterogeneously decorated/articulated musical lines—is an obvious and consistent textural feature, but a kind of heterophony also exists between whole sections; hour-long rites can often be based on sparse, two-phrase melodies, variously expanded and ornamented according to fixed performance practices.

In Ritual IIIb, each “variation” (seven in total) is announced with a composite piano/gong gesture. The ordering of the variations delineates a kind of imaginary ceremony, based loosely on my reading of the Zhou dynasty rites. Indeed, what has drawn me consistently to ancient ritual is that any attempt at reconstruction can be, at best, imaginary: since the original social contexts for these musical rituals have been long lost, we are at most onlookers, and the ritual itself can only seem like an arbitrary happening, subliminally animated by a vestigial logic.

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