Written for pianist Ryan Fogg who premiered the work on March 4, 2010 at Carson–Newman College (Jefferson City, TN)
Traces is a set of seven free–standing character pieces, each of which bear in some way marks, or
"traces," of influences on the composer’s approach. Each movement is followed by one or
more allusions to the influences present in that particular movement, a practice that itself
is an allusion to Debussy. (Coincidentally, Debussy’s first book of Preludes were begun
in 1909, exactly 100 years before the composing of Traces.) The opening movement provides
a short, sonorous introduction to the set during which resonate rich chords whose 12–tone
structures are perhaps masked by their triadic configurations. These configurations hint
at a Messiaenic influence. Following a Prokofievian second movement, a quick moto perpetuo
filled with irregular scales and erratic accents, comes a pensive nocturne–like third
movement, whose slowly–descending doleful left hand accompaniment is reminiscent of Chopin’s
melancholic e minor Prelude. In contrast is the sprightly fourth movement where melodic fragments are extracted from predominantly brittle, staccato textures. Here Boulez provides a loose model, and the first six and final six notes correspond identically to those of the sixth movement of the French master’s Notations for piano. Movement five is as much a piece for pedals as it is for the keys. The sostenuto pedal is in constant use, and its combination with various unconventional uses of the sustain pedal (i.e. half pedaling, delayed pedaling) produce a Berioesque multi–layered tapestry of resonating chords and rapid filigree. The placid sixth movement is a two–part canon with angular melodies in which the beginning voice (the dux) is mimicked by the following voice (the comes) in rhythmic diminution and contrary motion, much like the "Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu" of J.S. Bach’s monumental Art of the Fugue. The final seventh movement is essentially the opening movement but in a different guise, the two serving as bookends for the entire set.
Preface to the Score:
1. (n.) a piece of evidence or vestige of some former existence or influence: Each
movement is followed by an allusion to some influence that is suggested by that particular
movement; this manner of allusion itself points to the influence of Debussy.
(Coincidentally, Debussy’s first book of preludes was begun in 1909, exactly 100 years prior
to the completion of Traces.)
2. (n.) an extremely small or barely discernible amount; one that is often too small
to be accurately measured: The movements are brief, three of which are no more than one minute in length.
3. (v.) to find or discover by investigation: Each movement was a kind of
personal discovery for the composer of how the "voices" of past influences have
become embedded in his own.
4. (v.) to recount the history, ancestry, origin, or development of: This
work therefore reflects the composer’s great admiration for those who have made significant
contributions to a rich canon of piano music and, in its own way, traces that canon
back to Bach by way of Birtwistle, Boulez, Prokofiev and Chopin, among others.