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Three Mobiles

2001; revised in 2003 & 2006

Since my music sometimes wears its heart on its sleeve I have frequently employed quite limited material and rigorous structures to counterbalance this—simple ‘white note’ harmony and palindrome to give just two examples. When making choices such as these, I have simultaneously aimed for a certain lightness or playfulness of expression so, although the music is, in certain senses, very strict, in others it is the very opposite. Works like Light Music for piano (four hands) and the palindrome for six pianos Never Odd or Even typify this approach and so, by slightly different means, does Three Mobiles.

In sculptural terms a mobile is a three dimensional object with moving parts. Those parts never change in essence but, as they move, are seen in a seemingly endless series of different combinations and perspectives. This is the effect I have tried to achieve in this piece. I have taken a series of 36 chords, all diatonic to E flat major. Some are common chords, while most have one or more notes added to the basic triad. The chords have a further ‘logic’ in that the bass of each successive chord moves down step by step. Using them as a basis, I have constructed the three movements in the manner of classical variation technique adding a ‘free’ melody on top drawn from notes of the current chord. In this way I have tried to replicate the qualities of mobiles in terms of sound.

Mobile I is fast and lively; it has repeated chords overlayed with polyrhythms. In a further attempt to represent the concept of the piece, the material is presented in the same rhythmic and metric format three times. Mobile II has a slow walking bass over which combines with a very free, almost jazz-inflected melody conveying a feeling of calm and tranquillity. Mobile III is very playful and light and moves swiftly through and around the now familiar harmony.

Like Paradise haunts …, Three Mobiles also started out as a piece with piano accompaniment. It was commissioned by the Machynlleth Festival with funds made available in part by the Arts Council of Wales and was first performed on August 21st 2001 by Gerard McChrystal with Dan Moriyama (piano). The piece was revised in 2003 (when the version for String Orchestra was made) and again in 2006.

from notes by John Metcalf © 2007


Metcalf: In time of daffodils
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