A few weeks ago, I wrote about my Ten Wind Gadgets, a set of trios for every possible combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, all based on a single motif. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the question of why I would embark on such a project, which is unlike anything else I’ve done. On the one hand, it is exceptionally practical: wind players never have enough good repertoire for small groupings. On the other hand, it is exceptionally impractical: each piece is under six minutes long, and playing more than one of them requires more than three people. Playing the entire set, which would reveal some of the underlying threads woven into the set, would take close to an hour – I don’t expect that could, or should, ever happen.
So what compelled me to write close to an hour of music that won’t be played as it was conceived?
The quick answer is insanity, and I suppose I could plead to my own brand, but a better answer might be age. Age as in late-fifties: not terribly interested in upward mobility, more interested in delving into what I’ve learned from a half century of composing. Though it didn’t occur to me while I was working on Gadgets, in retrospect The Art of the Fugue is an obvious parallel: 18 compositions on a single theme, of indeterminate instrumentation, written in the last decade of Bach’s life, essentially summarizing everything he could do with a style of counterpoint that had long gone out of fashion. Similarly, Ten Wind Gadgets breaks no new ground, doesn’t lend itself to performance in its entirety, and manifests a desire to explore the range of possibility within a closely circumscribed set of options, many of which were unavailable to composers before the end of the twentieth century, but few of which are cutting edge in 2016.
Mind you, I am well aware that I don’t occupy the same place in the history of music as JS. Place in history should receive its due, but in the day-to-day life of being a composer, it’s really not a consideration for me. I compose because musical ideas are always nagging at me, not because of some grand idea of where I fit in the universe.
And the notion of this piece, as well as the actual sound of it, nagged me long enough that I had to make it happen.