arcus vitae

Complete Work Title: 

arcus vitae

Performance Medium: 

two guitars




to Matthew Elgart and Peter Yates

Date Composed: 

June - July 1987

Program Notes: 

Composed in the summer of 1987 at the request of the Elgart/Yates Guitar Duo (to whom the work is dedicated), arcus vitae is a representative example of the composer's ongoing interest in strictly controlled, systematically applied processes as analogies of natural phenomena.

As the title suggests, the work is essentially an arch-like structure, and is characterized by a gradual process of growth and decay that is evidenced in all parameters: rhythmic material is the result of an incremental accumulation and subsequent reduction of temporal values (each of the two parts proceeding in palindrome from a basic rhythmic nucleus); pitch material expands from a single point to a completely saturated chromatic field, then gradually dissipates; variations of dynamics and register are the result of articulative/timbral modifications, which are applied to the raw materials in such a way as to effect a gradual increase then subsequent decrease in density and complexity, eventually returning to the simplicity of the opening. Canonic elements, inherent to the structure and present throughout, become more apparent from the midpoint onward, where the temporal displacements are often so minute as to create an echo-like stretto between the parts.

As an analogy to the life process, the return to the original state in arcus vitae is not a literal one; rather, it is degenerative in nature, as in the eventual deterioration of an organism over time. Such a retrogression is effected by rhythmic and intonational distortions that occur within the latter portion of the work, thus epitomizing mortality itself.