Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Arches


Arches (2010), for solo cello and large chamber ensemble, was commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation for the cellist Anssi Karttunen. The ensemble includes flute (doubling piccolo and alto flute), oboe, clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, percussion (two players), piano, harp, two violins, viola, and contrabass. The piece is in one movement lasting about 19 minutes. 

Arches is not a traditional concerto but a dialogue for cello and ensemble. Its expressive character comes from my feeling of the sound of the cello itself. This, the most human of instruments, covers the range from bass to soprano and conveys deep melancholy in the midst of rhetorical force. 

I found the form to harness these inchoate expressive impulses through Renaissance cantus firmus technique allied with my spiral methods of construction. An expanding and contracting melody of my devising appears throughout, both overtly and covertly in different instruments and registers, everywhere influencing the voice leading and harmony. The title refers not only to the characteristic rise and fall in melodic contour but more especially to the arcs of formal expansion and contraction. These cycles grow to the midpoint and recede quasi-symmetrically to the end, motivating palindromic patterns at multiple structural levels—arches within arches within arches.

Fred Lerdahl


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009