Heavy Water—Program Note

Heavy Water (1998) is a chamber work in three movements played without pause and with an overall tempo scheme of fast-slow-fast. The piece uses a centric pitch scheme of the composer’s design that allows for the progression of chordal materials that support a collection from which the melodic material may be drawn. A central feature of this pitch scheme is that it allows for an orderly progression between quite disparate materials allowing a piece with eclectic components to maintain a degree of wholeness.

The first movement uses this pitch scheme to support an interlocking and eventually overlapping set of musical textures that reaches a zenith in intensity and is suddenly broken off leaving one lingering note. The second movement picks up this note and proceeds by alternating melodic materials stated with eventually increasing polyphony and ensemble passages. This movement utilizes a subset of the melodic collection and proceeds by juxtaposing and eventually overlapping different transpositions of this subset according to its repeated interval series (3, 2, 1). The third movement uses the centric pitch scheme to support a series of expanding variations on an initially short theme in which the melody and accompaniment are at odds pitch-wise. This movement culminates in a variation that resolves the melody/accompaniment tension and blends in elements from the first movement to bring the work a decisive close.

The title of the piece refers to a rhythmic process where a steady rhythm suddenly meets resistance causing it to slow down slightly and also drop in pitch as if the work was suddenly “running under water.” The association of the term heavy water with the explosiveness and unpredictability of nuclear reactions is also welcome at certain points in the piece.