Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Chords


The orchestral piece Chords (1974-83) has a complicated history. Its first version was commissioned in 1972 by the Fromm Music Foundation and the Berkshire Music Center. A completely new version was premiered at Tanglewood in 1974. In 1983, the 1974 version underwent thorough revision. The final version, about 15 minutes in length, was premiered by the New York Philharmonic at its 1983 Horizons concerts. The instrumentation consists of triple woodwinds, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, percussion, piano, harp, and strings without violins. The work is dedicated to Gunther Schuller.

Chords originated in a vision and concept. The vision was of an infinitely peaceful yet powerful Bb major triad cutting through a welter of orchestral sound. The concept was to construct a piece entirely from a succession of chord-color-rhythms. The result is a mosaic of consonant and dissonant chord colors, revolving closely and distantly around a focal sonority.

Chords falls into five interrelated sections, separated by four senza misura transitions. Texturally, section III derives from the transitions, section IV from section I, and section V from section II. Harmonically, however, section V returns to the opening, with two long-awaited Bb arrivals, like a ship coming to dock after a wayward and perilous journey.

Fred Lerdahl


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009