for percussion ensemble

Program note no. 1

The following program note accompanied a cassette tape submitted to the selection committee for the George Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Creative and Scholarly Works at the University of Cincinnati (Sapp was awarded this honor in 1986).

“TAYLOR’S NINE commissioned by tadio station WGUC concerns the movements of very slowly rotating bodies gradually accelerating and it concerns as well the various kinds of silence between musical events. It attempts to create musical space of various densities”

Program note no. 2

The following more extensive program note was found in the composer’s copy of the score, a photocopy of a letter dated 9 October 1981 (recipient not specified). The composer later thought that this letter and a copy of the score may have been given to James Chute, a reviewer for the Cincinnati Post.

“October 9, 1981
Emery 228 CCM

Here is the score to TAYLOR’S NINE with my best regards. It is the first of the WGUC commissions to be completed, delivered and performed and is particularly favored by this opening concert of the PERCUSSION GROUP to whom it is dedicated in affection and respect. I was responsible, during my Dean’s time, for helping to preserve and reconstitute the group after BLACK EARTH had ceased to function. Allen OTTE, the group leader, is a remarkable musician; I tried in TAYLORS NINE to honor him and to compose a piece worthy as well of the great warmth which has been shown to me by WGUC and most particularly by Ann Santen, its superb music director over my Cincinnati years.

TAYLORS NINE is a piece of memories, influences and impressions of my Cambridge years as a college student, a young teacher and a youthful composer in 1939-58. It is the only frankly autobiographic work I have ever written. . . . I started with the idea of a fairly extended (but not really very long) work in which I would use instruments of the bell-like families. This was a conscious decision to exclude the many fascinating percussion instruments which cover the stage in any concert of new music. It is part of my fundamental philosophy as a composer to use restricted means where I can. The notions of working through the years of my growing up came slowly as I started thinking of the sonorities and designs I wanted for this work. Bells took me back to my work as a bell-ringer in Lowell House where I formed part of a small group which rang the great Russian bells atop the tower. It was a shattering experience, rising to a great climax in which gradually larger and larger bells were added in new rhythmic shapes to patterns already established, building up layers of sonorities until the sounds suddenly ceased and the whole rhythmic pyramid tumbled down.

My concerns of these years (and during the war) were much related to mathematics, of which I was and remain a serious student. The focus of my interest was number theory, particularly the work of Dickinson, Minkowski, Birkhoff and Hancock. I was able to use much of this in my work as a cryptanalyst in military service. Brook Taylor’s fundamental theorem producing Taylor’s Series was one of the earliest openings to this field. My interest in bells and my unquenchable thirst for good mysteries lead me to Dorothy Sayres’ great series of Peter Whimsey stories. . . . Her most stimulating novel was for me The Nine Taylors, a work in which the great bells of this name played a great role. The novel is a veritable textbook on another kind of bell ringing: change bell, as practiced in the English churches. Taylor’s Nine has a goodly number of applications of “the change” and of precise usages of change technique.

The work is designed as a structure of layered isometric periods (of course there are nine of them and the meter is nine), designed for nine players. It has a basic sound-shape rising from the idea of beginning with dispersed, extremely scattered sonorities and gradually consolidating or fusing them into increasing patterns more and more dense until by the ninth period a kind of frantic squeezing of rhythmic values and figures has replaced the thin atmosphere of the beginning. Imagine if you can a closed chamber in which the gaseous atmosphere is extremely thin at first, hardly breathable, at the top of Mt. Everest and then gradually the pressure rises until it is hundreds of meters below the surface of the sea, unbearably intense.

As the pressure rises and the apparent speed increases and the tension mounts, the unfolding of several series takes place.

The scoring supposes that there will be a group of four virtuoso players and a group of attentive but much less skilled players, much as in the hierarchical structure of gamelan organizations which move from the . . . amateur to the consummate professional.

The materials of the work are very simple, two sequences of notes, one of seven tones and one of eleven tones. The cycles and permutations of these short sequences form the essential sound bias of the work.

There were other Taylors important in my life then. The great historian of medieval history and governments, Charles Henry Taylor, who was my most important mentor from whom I learned to appreciate the outlook of the composers of isorhythmic music. He was crazy about baseball, and had in fact a group of players which we affectionately called Taylor’s Nine. I say nothing of such malignant influences as Old Taylor and Taylor Porkrobl however much I may have enjoyed them at this period. The word “nine” recalls not only baseball but is in fact the number symbol for I (the ninth letter) and has special relevance to an autobiographic work. It is also a homonym for “nein” and in that period as in this I have experiences more than a usual share of the negative.

The work has a fairly intricate and complex construction, but I trust that it will reach an audience as a piece in which the sounds of celesta and electric piano and marimba and bell all combine sometimes in repetitive rhythmic patterns and sometimes in clusters of cascading chords to attempt to penetrate through the present to a time past and perhaps a time future?”

Sound files of two excerpts from this composition are available from this server; click here to connect to the sound file selection page.