Gorgon's Head II for violin and piano

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


This work focuses on two research questions:
• How can extreme fragmentation and asymmetrical musical proportions be reconciled with a linear and dramatic narrative?
• How can Temporal Gestalt Theory [Tenney] inform approaches to musical repetition across a multi-movement structure comprising asymmetrical musical proportions

The musical fragment gained popularity in the 19th century [see Rosen, The Romantic Generation: 1995] – e.g. various ‘Albumblätter’ (Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn etc.) – gaining provenance in the 20th-century by both Modernists (e.g. Schoenberg, Webern and Stravinsky) and anti-modernists such (e.g. Satie). This presented an alternative to the Beethovenian grand-narrative of extended development, despite the fact that Beethoven was also one of the first exponents of this alternative mode of musical discourse. Reconciling such fragmentation within narrative/dramatic structures is still relatively uncharted territory, but examples do exist. One of the earliest extreme examples is by Beethoven himself, in his op.131 String Quartet, which combines fragments with extended movements, adding up to a single musical sweep. Recent examples include Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts (1950), Kurtág’s Hommage á R.Sch. (1990), Grisey’s Quatre Chants (1999), Adès’s Piano Quintet (2001), Holt’s A Table of Noises (2007) and Abrahamsen’s Schnee (2008).

The originality here is in the unique combination fragmentation, narrative and repetition. The music grows from a movement of 10 seconds (I) to 15 minutes (I), moving from extreme fragmentation to dramatic narrative, re-presenting the same material in different contexts. This was informed by the Temporal Gestalt Theory of James Tenney [see ‘Meta+Hodos’: written 1961, but only widely available after the publication of the collected writings in 2015). Tenney discusses musical hierarchical perception in terms of ‘elements’, ‘clangs’ and ‘sequences’. In this composition I attempt to take into account music’s temporal linearity, such that the ideas unfold in time by being presented in successively larger conglomerations of musical information.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Music, composition, violin fragmentation, narrative, repetition, Gestalt Theory


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