Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Quiet Music 


Quiet Music was commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation for the American Composers Orchestra, which premiered it in 1994 at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies. I made the two-piano version in 2001. The piece is in one movement lasting about 14 minutes. 

The sonic surface of Quiet Music displays two unusual constraints. First, as a manifestation of the work’s expressive character, the dynamic is pianissimo throughout. The means of achieving tension and climax are thereby displaced from dynamics onto texture and density. Second, at every point until the final sonority there are running sixteenth notes somewhere in the textural fabric. 

Quiet Music employs a formal process, overlapping expanding variations, a formal process that I have used in several pieces but which I carry here to an extreme of structural strictness and polyphonic virtuosity. Each individual section grows from a single melodic or harmonic cell that elaborates into complexity until it reaches a point of completion; meanwhile another section has begun a similar process in another strand. Some strands contract after expanding, resulting in a palindromic shape.

The expressive world of Quiet Music seems far from considerations of precompositional constraints. It is one of my most intimate works, an internal reverie of magical textures and shifting soundscapes. 

The two-piano version inevitably produces a different experience than the original orchestral piece. The running-sixteenth aspect is more in the foreground. The loss in instrumental color and architecture is compensated for by a gain in textural clarity and shading. 

Fred Lerdahl


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009