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Septet (2007) PDF Print E-mail
Catalogue - Instrumental ensemble

For 2 flutes, oboe, clarinet, 2 violins, viola. Chords of five notes cycle around a scale of 11 notes, following a classical block design. Recommended for contemporary music ensembles, both amateur and professional. Duration 12 minutes. Score 10€, parts 10€. 


My music is always more concerned with notes than with timbres, and often the instrumentation is not specified, since the music can sound equally clear with many different combinations of colors. In the case of the Septet, however, I decided to score the music specifically for two flutes, oboe, clarinet, two violins, and viola. The music is essentially a long progression of five-note chords, and the sound must be homogenous enough to be able to hear the harmonies clearly, yet subtle color differences greatly improve the musical interest, so it seemed best to solve this problem myself. I intentionally broke all the usual laws of voice leading, and crossed voices very often, so that one would hear the chords independently, without melodic connections.

The chords are constructed on an 11-note scale in a rather narrow range, following a combinatorial design known as (11,5,2), which means that:

Eleven elements (11 notes) are distributed into 11 subgroups of five elements (11 chords of five notes).

Each note occurs five times in five of the chords.

Each of the 55 pairs of notes comes together in two of the chords.

Each chord has exactly two notes in common with each other chord. 

I simply took the unique solution for this rather amazing symmetrical structure, transformed it into 10 related solutions, as shown on the cover, selected my 11-note scale, and arranged the result for the selected instruments. The total duration is about 12 minutes.

Those wishing to know more about the mathematics of these sorts of structures may consult The Handbook of Combinatorial Designs, edited by Charles J. Colbourn and Jeffrey H. Dinitz (second edition, Chapman and Hall/CRC, 2007)

Tom Johnson, Paris, August, 2007