the road in its unfoldings

Complete Work Title: 

the road in its unfoldings — meta-passacaglia for wind symphony

Performance Medium: 

wind symphony: piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd dbl. piccolo 2), 2 oboes, English horn, Eb clarinet, 6 Bb clarinets, bassett horn, Bb bass clarinet, Eb contrabass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, 4 C trumpets (1st dbl. flügelhorn), 4 horns, 3 tenor trombones, bass trombone, 2 euphoniums, 2 tubas, 6 percussion, piano, harp, contrabass (optional).


Variation I: Introduction (Murky, diffuse) — Variation II (Remote) — Variation III (Tranquil, fragile) — Variation IV: Fanfare (Bold, intrusive) — Variation V (Antagonistic) — Variation VI: Hoquetus (Wayward/desultory) — Variation VII (Murmuring) — Variation VIII (Halting) — Variation IX (Urgent) — Variation X (Scintillescent) — Variation XI (Lugubrious, deliberate) — Variation XII (Impulsive) — Variation XIII (Menacing) — Variation XIV (Austere) — Variation XV (Mechanical/fluid) — Variation XVI: Burleska (Sardonic) — Variation XVII (Exuberant) — Variation XVIII: Fanfare [Reprise] (Resolute) — Variation XIX: Stretto-Chorale (Plaintive) — Variation XX (Clamorous/subdued) — Variation XXI: Conclusion (Anxious)




for Eugene Corporon and the North Texas Wind Symphony

Date Composed: 

April 1996 - August 1997

Additional Information: 

Supported in part by a Faculty Research Grant from the University of North Texas.

Performance/Broadcast History: 
  • 26 February 1998; University of North Texas (Denton, TX) [premiere]

    North Texas Wind Symphony; Eugene Corporon, conductor

Program Notes: 

the road in its unfoldings was composed between April 1996 and August 1997 for Eugene Corporon and the North Texas Wind Symphony, which premiered the work at the University of North Texas on 26 February 1998. The work was supported in part by grants from the University of North Texas and the American Music Center.

the road in its unfoldings is essentially a passacaglia in twenty-one variations. Unlike the Baroque model, however, the subject is frequently obscured and distorted (metrically, registrally, etc.), often beyond recognition, although it is presented in its entirety within each and every variation. Although the work is not serial, the subject itself consists of two 11-tone rows derived from the opening four pitches of the second movement of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (C-Eb-B-D), which is presented in inversion as the first four notes of the subject; the remainder of the subject is generated from this opening four-note cell, and is made up entirely of major and minor thirds and sixths. The complete statement of the subject consists of two seven-measure phrases of eleven notes each; the second phrase is related to the first by retrograde-inversion, pivoting around the tritone Bb/E. This seven-measure phrase structure is reflected throughout the twenty-one variations, each of which is either seven, fourteen, twenty-one, or twenty-eight measures long.

The conceptual model for this work is the landmark book On Growth and Form (1917) by Scottish naturalist D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948).  In this book, Thompson elegantly described the structural relationships between various organic forms through mathematical paradigms and processes (e.g., Cartesian graphs, algebraic formulae), providing an alternative approach to that of Charles Darwin (e.g., The Origin of SpeciesThe Descent of Man) by emphasizing physical laws and mechanics over natural selection in the development of various biological forms.  The transformations and relationships explored by Thompson in this book formed the conceptual and structural basis of the present work, the title of which is derived from the poem “Volunteers” by Alice Fulton (Sensual Math, 1995), part of a sequence that draws upon genetics and evolution as an integral part of its subject matter. The titular line is part of a series of metaphors for the evolutionary process:

But evolution is a fugue
without finale. News that stays
news. The road in its unfoldings.

The twenty-one variations are linked by a chain of temporal modulations organized symmetrically, with the first and final variations serving as introduction and conclusion: the first ten variations are linked in such a way as to produce a gradual, non-linear accelerando (from MM 40 to MM 200), while the final ten variations reverse the process (returning to MM 40 at the conclusion). Each half of the work is also characterized by a gradually ascending ambitus, beginning in the lowest register of the ensemble and concluding in the highest register. Although this process is clearly manifested in the first half of the work, the registral trajectory in the second half follows a less direct path, becoming more erratic as the work progresses. The central variation (XI) acts as a fulcrum in this structure: the sudden and dramatic change in tempo, register, and overall character result in a sense of repose and reflection before the process resumes.

As a way of elucidating this process, there is imbedded within the structure a series of relationships between the variations in the first half of the work and those in the second half (as illustrated below): for example, Variation XVIII is simply a reworking of Variation IV with the addition of woodwinds and percussion; the two percussion variations (X and XII) that flank the central variation are structurally identical, the differences being almost exclusively timbral (the former is for ringing metals, the latter for wood and membrane instruments); elements of Variation VI reappear throughout Variation VII, and again in Variation VIII (which itself is a composite of three variations — VI, IX, and XVII — representing past, present, and future). Variations are also grouped to form larger structural units: e.g., Variation I through III function as an individual section; transitions between variations differ significantly, some being rather subtle (e.g., between Variations IX and X), others quite abrupt (e.g., between Variations III and IV).

Each variation is also presented as an homage to a different twentieth-century composer, as indicated by the initials at the end of each variation in the score. While some of these references may be readily apparent, most are rather subtle, even elusive. In any case, it is has not been the composer’s intention to represent the dedicatees through stylistic imitation or overt musical appropriation, but rather to acknowledge significant musical influences.