Law of Mosaics notes

The composers' own notes for A Far Cry's program Law of Mosaics, Thursday, April 6, at 7pm, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum



During my year as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome I made it my goal to visit every church in the city. Though I did not come even close to achieving this goal, I did discover many unique spaces that I came to know well over the course of the year. This piece is a series of portraits of some of my favorite Roman churches. The music is, at different times and in different ways, informed by the proportions of the buildings, the qualities of their surfaces, the patterns in their floors, the artwork on their walls, and the lives and legends of the saints whose names they bear. The more I worked on these miniatures, the less they had to do with actual buildings and the more they became character studies of imaginary people, my companions for my year abroad. (AN)

TED HEARNE (b. 1982)

"Thomas Jefferson went through the New Testament and removed all the miracles, leaving only the teachings."

"Meaning is a matter of adjacent data."

"The law of mosaics: how to deal with parts in the absence of wholes."

These passages, along with many others, are appropriated from a variety of sources and arranged by David Shields into his 2010 book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. It is a patchwork treatise on art and digital culture, and is an inspiration for Law of Mosaics, a 30­-minute piece for A Far Cry.

The musical material from the first movement, “Excerpts from the middle of something,” is lush and climactic­ but it is also a fish out of water, removed from surrounding music that might help it be better contextualized. It could follow a tense build­-up, or precede a climax and resolution, but instead we hear it repeated and revised. As the material circles in on itself, it begins to make sense on its own, but never really "goes" anywhere.

The second movement, “Palindrome for Andrew Norman,” is constructed entirely of samples lifted from other pieces of music. Each plays an important or climactic role in the piece from which it is lifted, but is used here as a single building block in the construction of a symmetrical (and rather arbitrary) formal structure: the palindrome. Each sample is altered from its original composition in some way: it may appear backwards, or re-voiced, or as a canon with itself, but an element of its essential character is always preserved.

Andrew Norman is a contemporary composer from New York whose 2010 string trio The Companion Guide to Rome is heard among the many snippets of source material in this movement.

In some way, the rich history of works written for the string orchestra informs and influences every performance by every individual string orchestra active today, whether they choose to perform those works or not. “Climactic moments from ‘Adagio for Strings’ and ‘The Four Seasons,’ slowed down and layered on top of one another” explores what can happen when two "staples" of the repertoire (likely to be found on a Best Classical Hits CD) are stretched out and mashed up.

The fourth movement, “Beats,” is driven by noise, punk and electronic music more than classical music influences. A simple and clear form is filled with music that plays with the space between pitch and non-­pitched sound.

“Climactic moments from movement three, three times as slow as before” is simply a reframing of music you have already heard.

“The warp and woof” refers to the lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (woof) threads that together create the texture and foundation of a woven fabric. It is a fitting end for a piece that imagines the framing of musical content to be as integral to the structure of a work as the way that content is framed. (TH)

Image of San Pietro in Montorio, depicted in "Pietro" from Andrew Norman's The Companion Guide to Rome.  Photo by Peter1936F - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,