Matthew Kennedy’s “Until I Say ‘When’ ” is a breathtaking exposure of space, timbre, and mood, that is both playful and hypnotic.  Take a look at the score here.

There is much to discuss in this work.  Let’s begin.

The first movement is a playful game of hide-and-seek.  The music is handed off from the piano to the saxophone.  We start with pitches D and E, move to A and C#, and at the second saxophone entrance we get two “fresh notes” in the C (natural) and F in the piano.  This is quickly obscured by a saxophone run, building tension until we slowly retreat with the violin decrescendo.  Already, this music is gently wild and playful; whimsical but dense when necessary.

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The pitches B, F, C, and A join forces for the first “hit” of the piece, a section ending in measure 17:

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Here the piano’s extended cluster adds extra “oomph”.

This movement continues to be through-composed, but centers around certain pitch structures, giving it a sense of continuity and organicity.  For example, in measure 25 the piano backdrop/accompaniment (a hallmark of this work) uses F, E, G, B, and C to create a harmonic field that is consistent, but that is not regurgitated due to the registral diversity:

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Furthering this continuity, the friendly “oomph” of a section ending returns again in measure 36:

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There are more melodic sections and one more “oomph”, but in the interest of lengthiness, let’s go to the second movement.

The second movement is, in Kennedy’s words:

“The second movement, a childlike movimento continuo, is tenacious in its investigation of the wild, stopping only for a tongue-in-cheek wink-of-the-eye.”

Indeed wild and vivacious, this movement is yet tied to the first movement in certain ways.  Firstly, it uses a close pitch set of D, Eb, F, Ab, B, and C in the opening gesture, utilizing once more a piano accompaniment and ostinato that is restricted harmonically:

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The pitch set of Ab-C-Db-F is utilized in many ways beyond this:

In the piano, with a melody on top of F, Ab, C, Bb:

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In the saxophone, as another accompaniment:

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Modified in the piano and transposed (A-C-Db-F becomes E-F#-B-C):

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In the saxophone, transformed to Ab-C-E-F:

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 8.16.25 AMOverlapping with the piano, and passing to the violin:

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In all, this movement is clearly one of perpetual motion (as Kennedy indicates), moving rapidly from one voice to another, one pitch set to another, and interrupting itself continuously–even to the final gesture:

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When one hears “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free” yelled, it is heard as an invitation to peace, a conclusion to a game of tag that allows amnesty to those still hiding.  We hear in this piece echoes of the chase, small bits of playfulness that are serenely meandering their way back to the starting point of the game.  In this playing off of one another and the use of broad space, Kennedy creates a mood of nostalgia, retrospection, and meditation on the thoughts of the last two movements.  Being a father, it is possible that Kennedy alludes to the innocence of childhood games, remembering those times all the while knowing that the past can never be experienced again, and lives only in our minds.  The piece does not stay stuck in the past, but leaves the leanness and simplicity of its pitch content and texture to wander off in a new direction, all the while looking back.

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I hope that you have learned something through this analysis of pitch, textural, rhythmic, and conceptual elements in this piece.  It is also worth noting the timbral, technical, and mood specifications that Kennedy meticulously asks of his performers.  Lastly, this is a great example of engraving and knowledge of musical terminology.

Happy composing, until I say “when”,

Dan