Program Note for BACH meets EsCHeR (orchestra, 2000)


BACH meets EsCHeR initially began as one of four essays that would each explore a different aspect of musical texture: monophony (a solo line), homophony (all lines moving in the same rhythm), cacophony (noise-sounds and extreme dissonance) and - in this work - polyphony (the combination of several musical lines).  The piece can now be played as an independent work or as the first movement of Symphony B-A-C-H.

In thinking about the concepts of polyphony, I could not ignore the overwhelming influence of J.S. Bach's music and I was also intrigued by the connections made by Douglas Hofstadter in his book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. The graphic designs of M.C. Escher became a kind of visual impetus for this work, dictating clear rhythmic gestures with independent parts that reveal a larger organic structure.

I decided, therefore, to base this piece on the names of Bach and Escher.  B-A-C-H, or in German, Bb, A, C, and B-natural is presented boldly in the brass at the opening; Es-C-H-eR, or Eb, C, B-natural, and D (taken from the solfeggio syllable Re) is answered in the strings and woodwinds.  The BACH motive announces the arrival of new musical lines, while the EsCHeR motive provides a counterpoint for the creation of harmony.  After a slow beginning, a faster central section takes the BACH motive and builds different polyphonic textures which transform themselves into chords.  The strings then play sixteenth-note layers of BACH while the initial BACH motive is heard in the low winds.  This leads to a short fugue, where BACH and EsCHeR meet again as subject and countersubject.  The polyphonic texture is then pushed aside and stopped by a Bach choral "Es ist genug" (It is finished) which signals a point of closure.  A brief and quiet dirge follows as a memorial to Bach, who died 250 years ago, and whose contribution to polyphonic music overshadows all of the Eurocentric musical tradition.