Written for pianist Ryan Fogg who premiered the work on October 2, 2006 at Union University (Jackson, TN)
Downward Courses was written during the summer of 2006. Its title comes from a poem by the Kentuckian writer and poet Wendell Berry. Musically, descending melodic fragments, or "downward melodic courses," are pulled from a five–chord progression that serves as a basis for much of the work’s harmonic content. These fragments occur most apparently in the work’s slow middle section. The chord that begins the progression consists of all four triad types in interlocking fashion: minor, augmented, major, and diminished. Finally, the five–chord progression is heard in the work’s coda, in a slowly–evolving arpeggiated manner.
Liner notes from the Albany label CD (TROY1069):
Downward Courses is a one–movement work modeled upon an A – B – A’
structure, the whole of which is preceded by a brief introduction; the work draws to a close with that which
may be best described as a codetta. The form of Downward Courses is further enlivened by
interjections of materials associated with section B in section A, and material associated
with section A in section B. Section A itself continues quite seamlessly from the introduction and further unfolds procedures
encountered in the opening bars of the piece. The many fragmented gestures of Section A are spelled
off with pensive moments foreshadowing that which is to be more fully developed in the B section.
The overall mood established in section A is compelling to the point of being mystical: sustained
singleton pitches emerge out of the many driving rhythmic passages only to become mid–register
linking events setting up for the next rushing arch, or "downward course." The fragmentary
quality encountered at the surface, however, is dispelled at a deeper structural level, where particular
sonorities are projected in an accretive sense over protracted spans of time and in the lowest
register of the piano. Section B enteres at approximately the two–and–a–half–minute mark, and
follows a transitional passage. The rhythmic pace is now noticeably slower than is the case in
section A, and the dynamic gradient is much less pronounced. Rich chordal passages release into
individual lines, which in their turn lead to two–voice wedges opening outward in contrary motion.
A late flourish cross–referential to the beginning of Downward Courses leads to a retransition
in advance of A’. The final third of the piece is marked by the return of swelling degrees of intensity, but specific
embedded melodic lines hold in check the several energetic flourishes—each of which is underscored in dynamic and
registral terms. A misplaced codetta, capped by a molto allargando and extended crescendo,
is interrupted by one final pass at the principal defining material of section A. Downward Courses
ultimately collapses into two zones of activity predicated upon specific sonorities, each expressed
at unchanging pitch levels and linked by the common tone F: an F major triad; and a four–note
derived chord comprising the pitches F – A flat – E – B flat. Downward Courses was written for the pianist Ryan Fogg (Director of Keyboard Studies at
Carson–Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee) and was given its premier on October 15,
2006. The title of the composition is extracted from the end of verse one of "The Law that
Marries all Things," a poem by the Kentuckian writer Wendell Berry (b. 1934).
Notes by Gregory Marion,
The University of Saskatchewan