Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones

Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones

Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones

for violin, clarinet, and piano

Program Notes

This trio was inspired by one of my favorite titles, that of a well-known short story by science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delaney. I say title rather than story, because my piece is not concerned with the story itself (a picaresque romance set in the near future), although it is a marvelous one. Even before I read the story I was entranced by the title, which called up images of dazzling, swirling brilliance. I set out to write a piece that captured that impression, so that even the slow, meditative sections have (I hope) an underlying tension and sparkle.

I believe that any piece of music should be able to stand on its own and should be able to appreciated without a technical knowledge of music. Accordingly I hope that, even if one didn’t know the title of the piece, let alone the details of construction, it would still be enjoyable strictly as a musical experience. However, those interested in more technical matters might like to know the following:

Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones is written in a form combining elements of both rondo and arch: ABACACABA. The central A section also contains a motive from the B sections, which adds to the symmetry of the formal construction. This form seemed to me to convey something of the idea of a helix: ever spiraling outward and changing, yet ever the same. The first, middle and last A sections are in a presto tempo, while the other sections are all in tempos that relate to the original tempo in “Golden Section” ratios (.618-a ratio found in some natural phenomena and also much used to determine proportions in art, architecture, and music). The lengths of the sections are also determined by Golden Section proportions with respect to the first A section, which lasts one minute.

The pitches in the A sections are based on a 144-note “tone helix” derived from a traditional 12-tone row matrix. This tone helix is manipulated in various ways in the A sections. The music in the other sections was conceived more freely and intuitively. (I am indebted to my friend and fellow composer, J. Mark Scearce, for suggesting a way to generate a helix from a 12-tone matrix.)

Since I was writing for a virtuoso ensemble, the Verdehr Trio, Time Considered … makes full use of both the technical and ensemble skills of the players, while exploring many – certainly not all – of the sonic possibilities of this wonderful combination of instruments.

The Verdehr Trio gave the premiere at the Louisiana State University Festival of Contemporary Music in 1995. They have subsequently performed the work in other venues and have recorded it, as well. It appears on their CD, American Images (Crystal Records CD 942).

recorded by the Verdehr Trio on their CD, American Images, Vol. 12

Click to listen in RealPlayer


James H. North

Fanfare Magazine, Sept/Oct 2002 (Vol. 26 / No. 1)
From a review of American Images – Verdehr Trio

Marc Satterwhite has written a thoroughly contemporary piece whose structure and tempos are based on a 12-tone row matrix and mathematical ratios. Neither that nor the complex title inhibits one’s enjoyment, however; brilliance and fun prevail, with the calculated origins surfacing only rarely.

The Verdehrs are superbly accomplished musicians. Crystal Records lives up to its name too. Each disc presents a nicely balanced program: the old and the new, seriousness and fun, all in a satisfying variety of musical styles.