Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This is a waltz?

Next up for your audio pleasure (?) is my rendition of Philip Glass' Modern Love Waltz.

This brief piece was written for The Waltz Project, a set of short, contemporary piano waltzes by a variety of composers created in 1978. It was made into a ballet in 1981. I saw that performed many years later in Berkeley.

Although the piece is indeed in 3/4 time, Glass makes you struggle to hear that! The basic rhythm is simple, but ambiguous. Then he adds every trick in the book to disguise and distract you from that rhythm.

The left-hand line is a short basso ostinato, repeated constantly throughout. It consists of two measures of six eighth notes, grouped into 4 sets of 3. Already that does not sound like a waltz! It is ambiguously in 3/4 time or 6/8 time, but sounds more like four beats (two per measure). The chord changes from A to B♭ and back again over and over, giving an additional impression of two slow beats.

On top of that, the right hand bounces along trying one rhythm after another. Sometimes reinforcing one of the possible interpretations of the bass rhythm, and other times confounding them. In this two-measure example, the right-hand is playing 4 beats per measure, with each beat divided in three.


Lots of composers have created pieces with much more complicated poly-rhythms or poly-meters. To keep my sanity, I keep my distance! At any given time in a piece by Glass, the tempo ratio between the beats in any two voices is rarely anything other than a simple 1:2, 2:3, or 3:4 ratio. But there can be four or more of those voices and the time signature and the relationships between the tempos of the voices can change suddenly and frequently.

It isn't important for the listener to be aware of all that is going on at each moment. In fact it may be better to just let it wash over you.

This is a pretty early piece for Glass and not one of his best. But it is fun to play, and I hope it isn't too hard to listen to!

3 comments:

tallpapab said...

Glass is usually to sophisticated for me, but this wasn't. I like the dissonance. Interesting, but not grating.

Ed said...

Hmm. I always assumed this piece would drive everyone batty.

Lisette said...

I actually really liked it...

But maybe you have batty friends ;)