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- A Short History of Life
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Fragment uit partituur van A Short History of Life. Ziet er moeilijker uit dan het is.

A Short History of Life

For 4 treble recorders

Willibrord Huisman, 1996

Edition Moeck Nr. 1577, Reihe zeitgenössischer Musik
Moeck Verlag, Celle ISMN M-2006-1577-7

Note: you may order the score plus parts at, e.g.:

Before, you may want to have look at some pages:

  • Partial score at Moeck's website: pdf.
  • Idem, local copy: pdf.

Preface

The following elucidation of the composition process may be interesting to some players. However it is not meant as an explanation of the piece to an audience - the piece should not at all be presented as being programme music.

The compository principle used throughout most of the piece is that of evolution. The themes evolve out of each other, gradually becoming more and more complex, sometimes reaching unexpected moments of harmony, as if they were the musical equivalents of Darwin's species. This process, however, would be perpetual, whereas a piece of music needs an end, and preferably even a form. Therefore, two evolutionary catastrophies are brought into play as true dei ex machina.

The first is a sudden destruction of all complexity - its equivalent in biological life is the meteor impact that suddenly ended the Cretaceous period, driving the dinosaurs to extinction.

The second is the appearance of an over-dominating theme, that eliminates all other themes one by one, proudly reaching its own harmony, until finally it reaches its own breakdown, and with that, the breakdown of the musical life itself.

Readers with a pessimistic imagination will easily conceive of a proper equivalent in biological life.

Evolution is more and more acknowledged as being the basic principle in a wide variety of processes, life on earth being only one of them. Evolutionary algorithms can create very efficient structures and procedures, regardless of scale and environment: cells, organs, organisms, ecosystems, social and economic systems, computers. The notion that evolution is such a wide-spread phenomenon gave birth to the idea that a musical piece based on it should have a natural esthetic quality, regardless of whether the listener realises that evolution is taking place. Therefore, a listener might just as well interpret the titel as A short history of a life, or follow any other interpretation in which a process is taking place, or no interpretation at all.

Willibrord Huisman

Review

The Recorder Magazine Vol. 19, No. 3, Autumn 1999, S. 95

A brief biographical note presents the composer as a choir singer and recorder player trained as biologist and philosopher and currently working as an educational technologist. He is open to comments, questions, etc. and in his detailed introduction is far from prescriptive. Articulation and dynamics are left to the players, who must all conform to what is eventually decided.

It must not be presented to an audience as programme music, but there are two catastrophes in its evolutionary unfolding, one like the meteor impact that abolished the dinosaurs. In common time throughout its 266 bars at an unvarying tempo, it plays for nine minutes, opening out from a unison D with a few semi-flats and semi-sharps (fingerings suggested) and occasionally some multiphonics, and gradually occupying the whole normal range of the recorder, in which themes develop and die out. Players are asked to sit in a straight line so that themes may be identified by the listeners. Minimalist techniques are employed to good effect in this intriguingly weird composition.

Paul Closter? Clarke?

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1996; July 2014
Page update 21 December 2015
© Willibrord Huisman 1990-2018
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