Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Fantasy Etudes  


Fantasy Etudes (1985) was commissioned with the support of an NEA consortium commissioning grant by Musical Elements, Alea III, the Arch Ensemble, and the Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago. It was premiered by Musical Elements, Robert Beaser conducting, in 1985 in New York City. The piece is in one movement about 14 minutes long and is scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, and piano. 

The larger form of Fantasy Etudes evolves from 12 interlocking etudes. Each etude has a distinctive idea and color, so that the overall effect is one of fantasy. Against this surface variety, however, there exists an underlying similarity of procedure. Each etude is cast in the form of expanding variations, starting with a simple event and progressively elaborating into complexity. As the material of an etude begins to collapse under the weight of its elaborations, a new etude enters. These overlaps produce moments of dramatic tension—changes, if you like, from one fantasy to another. Towards the end the etudes overlap more and more, rising to a broad climax, after which a coda quotes snippets from each etude in turn. The formal process is intricate yet audible. 

Fred Lerdahl


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009