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Quintessence

marimba solo
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Composer: Ian Grom
Publisher: Innovative Percussion, Inc.
Instrumentation: Marimba low A

Program Notes:
(kwin tes' ens), n. the pure and concentrated essence of a substance. Quintessence is an episodic work that utilizes the extrapolation of a single musical cell to create the impetus for the entire piece. It is above all a work meant to be organically self-perpetuating. In this piece, the note G could be considered the "primordial ooze" from which the first organism will emerge...a single-cell musical amoeba of sorts. This is comprimised of the first three notes presented in episide one: F, G and A-flat. This whole-step, half-step relationship extending out from G serves as the evolutionary starting point for the music. As in nature, variation and mutation give way to increasingly more diverse offspring as the work progresses through its five episodes.

Review:
“Quintessence,” a ca. 10-minute marimba solo, is written for a low-A instrument and is described by the composer as “an episodic work that utilizes the extrapolation of a single musical cell to create the impetus for the entire piece.” The three notes of this “cell” (F, G, Aflat) provide the whole-step/halfstep relationships that serve as the germinal ingredients for the composition. The piece is a tonal work set in five movements, or “episodes” as the composer refers to them, each offering its own stylistic features. The piece begins before a sound is actually heard, as the player hovers above the rolled G that initiates the opening episode, and “make(s) the rolling motion without actually hitting the bar until several seconds have gone by.” The opening episode (“Emerge”), in chordal style with mildly dissonant harmonies, is followed by the contrapuntal setting of the second episode, “Remembering Mandeng.” Here, the left hand plays an eighth-note ostinato pattern set against a simple melody in the right hand, which results in a rhythmically interesting counterpoint (e.g., the juxtaposition of three notes in the left hand against two in the right). The third episode, “Plight of the Birdies,” features a melody embellished with grace notes and a technique idiomatic to marimba performance in which the melodic line is divided between right- and left-hand mallets in various rhythmic combinations. Episode IV (“The Savage Beast Unsoothed”) uses a repetitive right-hand “drone,” as the composer terms it (a repeated doublestop major second). The contrasting left-hand part sets up interesting rhythms, such as those resulting from the coordination of ascending left-hand octaves and the drone. The final episode (“Eventuality”) returns to the chordal texture of the opening, using rolled four-note chords, and concludes simply with three unrolled double-stops, the last note repeating the G with which the work begins. Technical problems are eased by chords that are voiced to avoid large skips, step-wise movement between chord tones, and repetitious patterns, keeping the work within the capabilities of an average college mallet player. Throughout most of the episodes, rhythm is the most imaginative aspect, interjecting a prime ingredient in maintaining the listener’s attention. The fact that the work features a variety of contrasting styles that can showcase a soloist’s command of the marimba keyboard should help its popularity." - John R. Raush Percussive Notes, August 2004

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