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Scafra Preludes

 

 

          Quick Start

 

 

 

Scan, Frame Advance, video technology: a picture is scanned onto a screen – it is actually a still
picture, but immediately a second one is scanned, replacing the first, giving the impression of
movement; the actor has moved slightly: the frame has advanced. Scafra is similar in that the music repeats-but-has-moved-on.

Short series of notes, say 1 to 6: repeat these (the frame) but miss off the first and add one to the end 

 

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– the frames advance.

 

            There are ramifications and refinements: for instance what is represented
            by any number (1 to 6 etc – I call this an element) need not be a single
            note, but could be a chord, two chords, or even a complex passage.

 

You can spool out  these elements from a single one –   

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– before starting the frame advance –

 

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– and then spooling in to a single element at the end –

         

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You can re-introduce element number 1 at the end so that the whole frame rotates   

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You can spool out in both directions from a central point to make a pyramid    

 

 

 

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            Scafra can be intercut, varied, counterpointed, used serially, used to determine harmonies,             hidden, layered, applied to borrowed music... all these processes and more take place in the             Preludes. Basically a simple idea – as simple, perhaps, as the basic idea of fugue – scafra can             yield equally rich and varied results.

 

Programme Notes

 

Book 1         (1995)

 

Prelude 1 (pole note D: a 'pole note' is like a key-note) is a moto perpetuo in ABA form. The first A section begins with the stuttering of fast, repeated Ds: gradually other material is introduced and the music changes and grows until we reach a climax and pause.
 
This opening section makes an appropriate inauguration for the Preludes: it constitutes a spool out, frame advance and spool in, three of the five 'classic' components of scafra. (The fourth, the frame rotate, can be found in Preludes 2 and 3; for the fifth, the pyramid, we must wait until Book 2.)
 

 
A freer middle section provides a lyrical interlude, using toward the end a melody derived from the name 'Daryl': then we move into the final section, which proves to be the first one backwards.

 

Prelude 2  (pole note A) begins softly but is interrupted by increasingly violent interjections, as the music builds to a climax. Two intercut scafras run independently for the length of the piece. One is a series of chords which spools out from a single soft element to a complete frame of 12, loud and arpeggiated. The other is a frame of 8 single notes, also soft at first, which are rotated, expanded, exploded and transformed out of recognition. After the climax the music suddenly dissipates into a strobe, a repeated passage of notes subjected to rhythmic displacement. Imperceptibly this becomes a spool in, which spins the Prelude to a close.

 

Prelude 3  (pole note C#) contains scafra rotations of a languid melody owing obvious debts to earlier composers of piano music. It is in 5/4 against a repeated C# bell note. As well as being rotated the melody appears at 4 different pitches (the original version, composed in C#, was discarded and is never played).

 

      transposed into        D#                               1   2   3   4   5

G#                               5   1   2   3   4

B                                  4   5   1   2   3

G                                 3   4   5   1   2


Book 2         (1997)

 

Prelude 4  (pole note B-flat) is a loud and frenetic two-part invention. Over its entire length the second voice (the left hand) is exactly the same as the first voice, backwards. This makes the Prelude a canon cancrizans (crab canon). Both voices start on B-flat at opposite ends of the keyboard, the first voice gradually sinking lower while the second rises. They draw closer, approaching a middle A# (= B-flat) where they intermingle and become confused; then they cross over and go their separate ways, the right hand now playing the second voice as it continues to rise, the left hand sinking with the first voice. We end  as  we began with the hands almost  as far apart as it's possible to get on the extreme B-flats of the piano keyboard.

 

Prelude 5  (pole note F) contains the first appearance in Scafra Preludes of a pyramid. The ten elements of the opening frame – a series of cascading runs – are laid out in the shape

 

 

 

 

 

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The whole Prelude is actually a pyramid of pyramids. Its three sections (each a pyramid) are themselves laid out in pyramid form:

 

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At its second appearance section 2 (the cascading runs) is varied and played backwards. In the following section 3 the F below middle C (the Prelude's pole note) is damped inside the piano, giving a short guttural thump. Section 1 (which due to vagaries of pyramids is the fourth section we hear) alternates loud, low clusters and high tinkles.

 

Prelude 6  (pole note F#) is subdued in tone, restricted in dynamic range (ppp to mp) and meditative. It utilises the total serialism developed in the 1950s by such composers as Boulez and Stockhausen, with serialised pitches, rhythms, chord-densities and dynamics. The music is laid out in a pyramid, but this is itself subjected to serial processing, jumbling the lines:

 

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Thus for the first time an entire Prelude adheres both to strict serialism and the principles of scafra.

 

Book 3         (2000)

 

Prelude 7   (pole note G#) is a loose palindrome. It features repeated bell notes in sets of eleven. The first time through, G# sounds softly alone eleven times. The second time, the other eleven notes of the chromatic scale are placed next to it one by one. The third time, an extra note is added, then another and another, producing first two-, then three- and finally four-note clusters answering the bell note. Now the bell note itself disappears and the clusters increase to five notes. This is a scafra of thickening texture, producing an ever-changing sequence of chords which break out towards the climax into scattering sprays of notes (though the dynamic is held severely in check, rising no further than mezzo-forte). Then, after the 'turn' of the palindrome, the texture begins to gradually thin again, ending with the single soft repeated bell note of the opening.

 

Prelude 8   (pole note E-flat) is a retro spool out. Six fairly long elements (several bars in each case) are laid out in the form 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The elements are named in the score (in order of appearance) 6 'Reflective', 5 'Lyrical', 4 'Dry', 3 'Mechanical', 2 'Fast' and 1 'Grandiose'. The music is serial. Each new element is livelier than the last, but the retro form ensures we are always on a downward gradient back to the reflective sixth element and the resting-point of its final E-flat.

 

Prelude 9  (pole note E) is a five-minute headlong rush, improvisando, with (uniquely in these pieces) no scafra processing of the notes at all. We hear no repeated passages and the music changes constantly. Where then is the scafra? It is in the underlying pitch worlds (the nearest traditional term would be 'harmonies'). I have imposed modes on the music – twelve of them – each containing 6 notes except for one which is a single E (the pole note). Actually this hardly appears, banished except for four tiny passages towards the end which, one by one, try to assert themselves, only to be swept away. The scafra processing is done by dividing the music into 40 elements each of which is given one of the twelve modes. The modes are laid out in a frame advance so that, although the music itself never repeats, we can listen for the pitch worlds recurring.


Book 4         (2005)

 

Prelude 10   (pole note B) is the first piece of music I wrote for my wife (April 2002). Her name is embedded in the notes. The music is split between the player's hands into two unconnected streams of music. The lower stream (left hand) is a slow vamp in waltz-time, Gymnopédie-like but darker, and the ten-element frame is rotated. The upper stream (right hand) is a rubato melody featuring the first appearance of a new scafra development, a nested spool out:

 

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Prelude 11   (pole note C) celebrates 'the middle of everything' (including the piano keyboard), the traditional home key of Western music and its emotional centre: C major (yes, a key! – in fact several). To this end I have 'borrowed' two bits of C major, a rather brash chord and a virtuosic run, from – who else but Beethoven? (Diabelli Variations) – with passages in other keys stolen from other favourite composers (including myself: Moto Interrotto). Some of the quotations can't be said to be in keys as such, but there is always a rationale. The form of this patchwork quilt of a Prelude is two intercut scafras, one a pyramid, the other a fresh scafra development, a frame reverse with retro spool out and retro spool in. The unaccustomed juxtaposition of these bleeding chunks has a curious effect on how they sound.

 

Prelude 12   (pole note G) revisits many of the formal innovations of its predecessors and invents a new one of its own, an embedded inverse pyramid:

 

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A noticeable feature, occurring in three of its seven sections, is a sudden 'silence' through which we hear (though nothing is played) echoes and shimmering harmonics. This effect is produced in two different ways. In the first and last sections two low-register keys are silently depressed beforehand: any notes played will now produce sympathetic vibrations. In the penultimate section the ringing is done by quickly depressing the sustain pedal during the instant of silence following a loud chord.
 
The form is a long arch, ABCDCBA. The first A ('Cascading') contains rippling runs, low alternating with high. The following B ('Cool') is chordal with hanging notes. Then C ('Lyrical – Insistent') builds with repeating patterns. The central D section ('Grandiose') contains the above-mentioned embedded inverse pyramid. For the 'fall' of the arch the music is varied. C's patterns (now 'Belligerent') are corralled, backwards and upside down, into the low register. The return of B (now 'Brilliant') is much altered, with new chords and virtuosic added filigree. Finally A reappears (again 'Cascading') unchanged at first but extended. At the end the music – and with it the Scafra Preludes – disappears 'down a plughole' in the bass.