Work in progress

Invention I

For violin and cello
Premiere: 2005, Theater Akzent Wien, played by Susanne Müller und René Staar
Duration: ca. 5 minutes


The Inventions op. 22h, together with the Descendances imaginaires op. 22f and the Réminiscences sur le nom de B.A.C.H., Premier Vision op. 22 avant f, form the part of the combined work complex belonging to op. 22 which deals with the combination of whole-tone, chromatic, and microtonal (in this instance quarter-tone) elements.

For this purpose, the musicians perform on microtonally-tuned instruments, whose tuning is not, however, changed in all the strings.

First, a word about microtonal processes:

Despite many important thoughts and ideas devoted to it, the field of microtonality remains largely unexplored even today.

It seems to be simple: when the supply of tones within a specific tonality is exhausted, one turns to another, which seems to allow new possibilities. Thus intervals become smaller, structural hearing becomes more refined, and this process has been implemented in different musical traditions for hundreds, if not thousands, of years both in theory and in practice. For Modernism, thinking about intervals smaller than a semitone is frequently contemplated in theory, but only sporadically implemented in compositional and performing practice.

At first, microtonality was used mostly as an element of timbral transformation in works such as Karol Szymanowski's Mythes op. 30 and Bela Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2.

Composers who worked exclusively with these phenomena (i.e. the exploration of microtones) were decried as experimenters and could not prevail over the isolated works of established composers. The original quarter-tone version of Bartók's Violin Sonata, for example, resounds only sporadically in concert halls even today.

During the last two decades of the 20th century, there have been attempts to introduce microtonality through involvement with non-European musical traditions or the tuning of instruments. I am thinking, for example, of Friedrich Cerha's string quartets which grew out the study of Arabic models, the influence of Balkan folk music (for instance in Iannis Xenakis's Dikhthas), or experiments with the scordatura tuning of string instruments (for instance in Ligeti's Ramifications, or, more refined, in his Violin Concerto).

I have myself explored quarter-tone adjustments by means of different tunings in my composition Descendances imaginaires op. 22f, where I juxtaposed two string orchestras tuned a quarter-tone apart.


So far, only one out of the projected 6 Inventions has been composed:

The first Invention for Violin and Cello (2005)

The lowest strings of the instruments are tuned a quarter-tone lower than normal, while the highest are tuned a quarter-tone higher. This means: tuning of the cello: lowered C – G (normal) – D (normal) – heightened A; tuning of the violin: lowered G – D (normal) – A (normal) – heightened E. This results in a total spectrum that includes two lowered open strings (C-G) three normally-tuned strings (G-D-A), and two heightened strings (A-E).

The musical structure of the four-minute piece is based upon the idea of developing intervallic cells from this particular tuning. These cells should finally go beyond the mere strangeness of the tuning and reach the level of real quarter-tone music. The piece thus becomes a challenge for the performers, because they have to know exactly which strings and which playing techniques will produce the desired sounds. In a way, it is necessary to re-learn playing the instrument. (Translation by John Moraitis)