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    Adam Greene     composer


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Non Plus Ultra (1996)

piano duo
duration: ca. 10’
SMMP No. 108

First performance
August 5, 2000, Jewett Fine Arts Center, Wellesley College, Aleck Karis and Christopher Oldfather, pianos

“The nec and non plus ultra of emotion were reached when the blushing bride elect burst her way through the serried ranks of the bystanders and flung herself onto the muscular bosom of him who was about to be launched into eternity for her sake.”
-Joyce, Ulysses (Cyclops episode)

Preformance Notes
Non Plus Ultra was composed during a period of significant personal change and artistic exploration. It was begun in Milan, where I was struck by its juxtapositions of Roman era aqueducts with Fascist era municipal buildings and modern skyscrapers, suggesting a collapsed view of history. While (often strange) juxtaposition indicated a formal approach that would become a hallmark of my compositional practice, it was also in Milan where I began to a take a more detailed interest in gesture, moving away from some of the schematic, parametric procedures that occupied my earlier work. I was particularly interested in the observations of composers such as Franco Donatoni, Brian Ferneyhough, and Salvatore Sciarrino, among others, published in a special edition of the Quaderni della Civica Scuola di Musica entitled “L’idea di Figura nella musica contemporanea,” who argued for different conceptions of la figura, or the gesture, that took a critical view toward historical forms.

The piano duo medium presented itself as a tantalizing domain in which to bring these issues to bear. Although it offers a staggering potential for density, I determined to treat this with some caution, and to instead view the situation from an almost absurdist principle of 1+1=1, where the sum total is not about simultaneity, but rather about transforming ideas that at least might be plausible for a single piano into circumstances where the timbral and spatial dimensions suggest a new entity altogether: a sort of meta-piano. Amid the moment-to-moment juxtaposition of slowly developing harmonic materials with rapid and assertive vertical sonorities, there is a broader pattern at work in this piece, in which the individual performers are given extensive periods of focused attention early on, but are gradually and implacably drawn together in search of this new, interwoven identity.

Non Plus Ultra is dedicated to my wife, Stacie Birky Greene, and its first draft was completed approximately a week before our wedding.