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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

David’s Fascinating Rhythm Method (1991)
Work Notes
Certain restrictions apply
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Sub Category
Chamber Orchestra
Year Composed
2 Minutes
Programme Note
John Harbison David’s Fascinating Rhythm Method (1991)
David’s Fascinating Rhythm Method employs a cantus firmus an isorhythm measuring seven quavers in length. This is deployed as a talia against ostinati measuring four, three and five crotchets respectfully, the resultant rhythmic polyphony resulting in a salubrious amplification of the qualities already suggested by Mr. Ira Gershwin’s famous lament “Fascinating Rhythm, why don’t you stop picking on me?” The author thanks the Gershwin Estate for the permission to fanaticize upon Maestro George Gershwin’s incomparable invention and submits the opus in partial fulfillment of the thesis requirements at Princeton University from which he never achieved a Ph.D.

Since the work will be inevitably be used as the opening selection on the program of perhaps weightier and more strenuous works the players are given the opportunity to retune briefly towards the conclusion. Neither the program note nor the piece is expected to require more than ninety seconds to transverse.

Behind the creation of every new work is an implicit challenge to the composer, but the Baltimore Symphony’s recent commission of a series of 90-second “greeting cards” for orchestra presented a more obvious one. “It’s difficult to write something that sounds complete in just 90 seconds,” said John Harbison, composer of David’s Fascinating Rhythm Method, his greeting card offering to conductor David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony that premiered in 1991.

Harbison started with the famous Gershwin song, “Fascinating Rhythm,” aptly named for its inherent syncopated qualities. The tune never quite squares wit the beat, giving it a natural tipsy swing. “There’s reason for that,” said Harbison, “a musical principle at work. I started with that principle and amplified it.” Applying this “method” results in even more fascinating rhythm, and as Harbison suggests, a more revved –up setting. The composer thanks the Gershwin Estate and its president, Leopold Godowsky, for permission to use Gershwin’s music.

—Christine Dahl

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