• Aaron Jay Kernis
  • Invisible Mosaic I (1986)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • cl, vn, vc, pf
  • 30 min

Programme Note

Commissioned by the Tippett Foundation and the Dartington International School of Music in Devon, England.

Composer Note:
Experiencing the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, Italy, during 1984 caused a great deal of musical and emotional “soul searching” to take place for me. At the mosaics I had a series of vivid hallucinations which were brought on by their densely colored, fragmented surfaces. Initially I was overwhelmed, seeing only whirling, broken-up fields of color devoid of form or figuration. It was like being thrown into a room with a million flashing, multi-colored lights which completely overtook the senses. Only later was I able to piece together what I had seen into continuous shapes that had formal design and spiritual intent. I now see this visual experience as being symbolic of many of my emotional states of that time; since then my music has been driven by tumultuous, volatile, passionately charged emotions. This has caused me to create two other "Invisible Mosaics:” II, written in early 1988 for the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris, and III, written later that year for the American Composers Orchestra, which premiered at Carnegie Hall.

Each of the three pieces begins in turbulence and confusion, using fragmented ideas and gestures which are eventually transformed into long, sweeping melodic lines. At the end of each work some kind of “resolution” is reached, be it emotional or harmonic. “Invisible Mosaic I;” scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, and lasting 32 minutes; is the most troubled and tragic of the three. Its first movement, Invisible Mosaic, is made of many different strands of rhythmically jagged, dissonant music (in alternation with slow, sustained chords) which become increasingly complex as the movement progresses to its agitated climax. The second movement, Childrens' Games, is a series of five short pieces which lighten the mood of the work while continuing to explore concerns from the opening. The third movement, Imaginary Fresco, is in many ways the opposite of the volatile first movement. It alternates slow, melodic music which grows ever more passionate with fast, rhythmic music in a clear, organized manner. Each time the melody returns it becomes increasingly obfuscated by the other overlaid lines and whirling ornamentation while the rhythmic music grows softer and more ineffectual. The sustained melody relates, for me, to the sweeping lines and the humanized, figurative aspects found in fresco paintings (as opposed to the broken-up surfaces of mosaics). As a nod to antiquity, these lines enter in an overlapping, fugal manner.

The form of the movement can be broken down as follows:


MELODY I (clarinet solo)       FAST MUSIC I (all four players)

VARIATION 1 of MELODY    FAST MUSIC II (violin, cello, piano)
(violin solo with clarinet obbligato)

VARIATION 2 of MELODY    FAST MUSIC III (cello, piano)
(cello solo with clarinet and violin obbligati)

(piano solo with the others accompanying)


CULMINATING, EXPANSIVE SECTION (which brings back the original melody, but only briefly. Quickly this section turns into an intense free-for-all as each instrument moves higher and faster. Each player drops out one by one (as they had entered), leaving the piano to conclude the section as it simultaneously ascends and descends to the work's ultimate harmonic and registral destination. A brief Coda which echoes the first movement closes the work.

— Aaron Jay Kernis