Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Imitations


Imitations, a set of six virtuosic etudes for flute, viola, and harp, was originally composed in 1977 for the now defunct Orpheus Trio. Although the group played the work expertly and toured with it during 1979-81 (under the title Six Etudes), its technical difficulties proved a barrier to wider dissemination. In 1992 and again in 2001 I revised it, keeping the musical sense of the original but simplifying the instrumental writing where possible. The duration of Imitations is approximately 15 minutes.

At the time I started Imitations I had been working out ideas for what was to become Ray Jackendoff's and my book A Generative Theory of Tonal Music, which models musical listening from the perspective of cognitive science. Certain tonal pieces filled my mind and led to urges to create them anew. So, following the lead of Robert Lowell's volume of poems by the same name, I based each etude on a classical piece, in the following order: Bach, C major Prelude (WTC I); Chopin, Etude op. 25/6; Brahms, Intermezzo op. 116/5; Chopin, Etude op. 10/7; Chopin, posthumous Etude in Ab; and Chopin, Etude op. 25/12. I systematically changed the surface of each source while preserving its structural relations.

The result sounds anything but theoretical. Even if part of the fun in listening to the work is to hear the sources through the transformations, awareness of the models is not essential, for the etudes comprising Imitations are fully reinvented in my own idiom as in was emerging at that time. 

Fred Lerdah


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009