Relative Theory

for Chamber Quartet

Written: Upcoming
Duration: ca. 12'
Instrumentation: flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling English horn), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), and piano
Commissioned by the Exponential Ensemble, with funding from the New York State Council on The Arts (NYSCA)
Upcoming World Premiere: Exponential Ensemble, Opera America, Marc A. Scorca Hall, New York, NY, October 30, 2019
PublisherBill Holab Music

PROGRAM NOTes (In-Progress)

Relative Theory is a four-movement, ca. 12 minute work for flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling English horn), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), and piano. Each movement is inspired by a mathematician or theoretical physicist. I was inspired by a story that the commissioning ensemble, the Exponential Ensemble, told me about how much they enjoy performing programs for children that relate math to music. In a fun, yet hopefully meaningful way, the movements of my piece are designed to draw parallels between these two distinct, but interrelated worlds.

The title Relative Theory is a play on words: it loosely refers to Albert Einstein’s famous Special Theory of Relativity, but also to musical theories and theoretical principals that are used between each of the movements. All of these movements are inspired by mathematicians or theoretical physicists, and their theorems and theories inspire the music itself.

In Pascal’s Triangle, triads and intervallic content are structured so as to use binomial coefficients in musical ways. In Noether’s Theorem, the music mirrors her theorem, which states that every differentiable symmetry of the action of a physical system has a corresponding conservation law. Einstein’s Daydream, perhaps the most fanciful movement, quotes a few themes from Beethoven, J.S. Bach and Mozart, three composers who’s music Einstein loved to play on his violin. The work ends with a movement entitled The Hammers of Pythagoras, inspired by a legendary, apocryphal but nevertheless playful tale of Pythagoras passing by a blacksmith at work one day, and discovering that musical notes could be translated into mathematical equations.

There are some fascinating programmatic relations that dictate how thematic materials are used in various movements. Albert Einstein thought very highly of Emmy Noether, a mathematician who never achieved the fame she deserved because she was female. In fact, some of her theories inspired Einstein. Therefore, some of the themes in the second movement are used in the third. Einstein and Pythagoras both figure prominently in music history, albeit for different reasons, so themes from each of these movements permeate back and forth.

Relative Theory was commissioned by the Exponential Ensemble, with funding from the New York State Council on The Arts (NYSCA).