Polythene Sonata Product (2014)
For Flute (alternate Saxophone(s)), Clarinet(s), Violin, Cello, Piano and Percussion
Commissioned and premiered by the St. Olaf College Chamber Players
Premiere performance, October 2014, St. Olaf College
Further performances by Latitude 49 at New Music Detroit, Constellation in Chicago, Spectrum, NY, et al.
Latitude 49 New Music Group
As a music theory teacher, I always tell my students that Sonata Form is all about contrast and conflict. The two themes and keys struggle for supremacy while the audience enjoys that battle.
I wanted to create a piece where this conflict inherent in sonata form would be magnified, and instead of nice, smooth transitions we would get more abrupt, violent and sometimes even bewildering ones. The result is in a kind of sonata form, but not really. It’s more like a Sonata-like product. There are indeed two contrasting themes, and there is even a recapitulation, but there is also much more in between —and around— these features.
I liked the way the title “Polythene Sonata Product” sounded as a phrase, and it conveys both the sonata-like structure and the influence of pop music (especially in its groove-based rhythms). The image of a factory generating thousands of copies of this Sonata Product was one that stayed in my mind as I was composing the piece. This industrial feel is at its most apparent in the latter portions of the piece. The word “Polythene” refers to a kind of plastic, and then term was perhaps immortalized by The Beatles in their song “Polythene Pam,” which is —somewhat ironically— not a real influence on this work.