• Nico Muhly
  • No Uncertain Terms (2017)

  • St. Rose Music Publishing (World)

This work was commissioned by Carnegie Hall. The World Premiere was given by Lisa Kaplan (piano), Nico Muhly (piano), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Nadia Sirota (viola), Nicolas Aldstaedt (cello), Chris Thompson (percussion) in Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City on April 26, 2017

  • perc2pfvn.va.vc
  • 16 min
    • 13th November 2020, Philharmonie de Paris, Paris, France
    View all

Programme Note

No Uncertain Terms is dedicated to Steve Reich and is meant to be a sort of archive of the ways his music has influenced mine. "Influence” in classical music can be deployed in various ways, not all of them complimentary: We like to imagine (or resist) an itinerary from Mozart through Beethoven to the Romantics, but in the 20th century, the giants of classical music started speaking languages entirely their own. Even though its influences can be traced back scientifically, listening to the first five seconds of Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians tells the listener, "This is a new place with a new tongue.” So, No Uncertain Terms starts with a direct rip-off of those five seconds and then explodes into a gallery of my own obsessions: a constantly recycling harmonic pattern; widely spaced chords with clear or very opaque pulses, sometimes at the same time; string writing that employs a very Reich-ean non-vibrato juxtaposed with romantic over-expression; and an ecstatic canon built on a single chord. Through this, two phrases from William Byrd’s Civitas sancti tui become present. One of the phrases built on the words "Sion deserta facta est” ("Zion is wasted and brought low,” in a more poetic translation) is a vertical chorale with an outlandish and surprising chord in it. The other borrowed tune, which has been an idée fixe throughout my whole musical life, sets the text "Jerusalem desolata facta est,” and is a linear, yearning, plangent phrase. At the center of this piece is an ecstatic statement of the 14 chords that govern the harmonic language of the piece, but completely off the grid—glossolalic and slightly terrifying. The piece ends with a sequence of pulses, fading in and out. This music is designed to expose in no uncertain terms how important Steve’s music is in my life and work.

—Nico Muhly