Co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Cork Opera House.

  • 4perc
  • 20 min

Programme Note

Composer note
With Broken Unison, I took the opportunity — joyfully I might add — to re-engage with questions of abstract compositional technique after a period writing more semantically charged music for operas and kind-of-operas. The work is full to the hilt with various ways of disrupting unisons, from antiphonal interchanges through staggered chorales to a fairly dizzying use of canons of various hues, from the airily spaced to the breathily close, so close that they veer towards a kind of fractured unison at times. I became even more ambitious with some of these ferociously close canons after hearing how well the So Percussion players executed them while I was trying out early drafts of the piece! Paradoxically, perhaps, as the music tends more towards actual unisons in its latter parts, its mood becomes progressively broken and dark. Maybe there is a semantic undertone after all.

I think of the dialogue between pattern and texture in this piece as a kind of magic realism. I limited myself strictly to equal-tempered pitched instruments, despite the fact that much of my recent music plays with microtones to create a kind of harmony/timbre based on the overtone series. Here instead the very close canons transform in and out of something akin to a jingly-jangly pulsating resonance, the overtones spilling over each other.

Strictly in nine sections, the piece really separates into three larger parts — each accumulatively made up of a greater number of smaller sections (2, 3 and 4 respectively) — and each demarcated by the varied iteration of a type of material defined by the employment of very bright, close canons starting in C and then slipping away semi-tonally in a manner influenced by the harmonic language of Gesualdo's later music.

— Donnacha Dennehy