Six Degrees

orchestra (3,2,2,2,/2,3,2/strings, timpani)  (2005)

Duration: ca. 13’

The notion of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’–the idea of the ‘small world’, where everyone is socially connected by approximately ‘six degrees’–is found today throughout popular culture. An idea in physics dating from the early 20th century, and later popularized by social scientists in the 1950s, it is now being applied to everything from social networking to genealogy, global warming, computer networks, games, internet sites, and television and movies plots.  The idea of ‘six degrees’ also struck me as having a parallel in contemporary music, which is often involved with commenting, in a ‘postmodern’ way, on other genres, such as historical, ethnic or popular music. I thought that this idea could also be applied to the formal elements of a composition, melody, harmony and form, reflecting the relationships between these elements. 

In my composition, ‘Six Degrees’ for orchestra, there are certainly aspects of the music that reflect this idea on various levels. One may hear fleeting references to the music of several diverse composers, such as Stravinsky, Sibelius, and Vivaldi, as well as references to some of my own works. Also, on a structural level, the melodic and harmonic material throughout the work is all closely related, referencing and building upon itself.  ‘Six Degrees’ is in three large sections, played without a pause.  Throughout the piece, we hear the very simple core melodic material–only four notes in its most basic form–presented in a wide variety of musical textures, from slow and calm to fast and agitated. The first part of the work (where the melody is first suggested by the French horn) gradually increases in tempo, until it suddenly stops.  Next, in the tranquil middle section, the original melody is presented as a musical canon by the strings and horns. This is followed by an interlude, where the rapidly moving violin parts accompany the low brass, which slowly play only two notes of the original melody.  The interlude leads to the final, brightly rhythmic part of the work, which ends with the melody played by the four horns in its original 4-note form, as the music gradually moves to the upper register.