Fred Lerdahl

Fred Lerdahl studied at Lawrence University, Princeton, and Tanglewood. He has taught at UC/Berkeley, Harvard, and Michigan, and since 1991 he has been Fritz Reiner Professor of Music at Columbia University. Commissions have come from the Fromm Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Spoleto Festival, National Endowment for the Arts, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress, Chamber Music America, and others. Among the organizations that have performed his works are the American Composers Orchestra who commissioned and premiered his Quiet Music in 1994, the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Orpheus, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, eighth blackbird, Speculum Musicae, Collage, Argento, Talea, the Peabody Trio, the Juilliard Quartet, the Pro Arte Quartet, the Daedalus Quartet, Ensemble XXI, Lontano, and the Venice Biennale.

Fred has been in residence at the Marlboro Music Festival, IRCAM, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the American Academy in Rome, the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival, the Yellow Barn Music Festival, the Beijing Modern Music Festival, the Etchings Festival, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Fred writes: Spirals (2006) is in two movements of equal length, the first fast and driven, the second slow and lyrical. The title refers to a formal technique of my invention, in which a short, simple idea elaborates into progressively complex and diverse patterns. Each cycle of elaboration enlarges the spiral. Shortly after the midpoint of each movement, the spiral reverses and contracts back to its point of origin while the musical ideas themselves continue to develop. This combination of symmetry and process culminates in points of great intensity. The constraints of the spiral technique allow freedom and flexibility while providing a coherence that is sometimes audible, other times only sensed. The dialectic between developing process and palindromic form, overlaid with free fantasy, creates a sonic world of both inevitability and surprise. A cadential progression generates the first movement. In the second movement, a long, winding melody, which arises from the voice-leading patterns of the cadential progression from the opening movement, functions as a cantus firmus. Other textures accrue, but the melody is always present and controls the tonal motion as tension slowly builds and reaches a climax. A short, dissipating coda recalls the harmonies of the beginning of the first movement. The piece was commissioned and premiered by The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The first performance took place in March 2007, Cliff Colnot conducting.