Alexander Brott, Circle, Triangle, Four Squares

ALEXANDER BROTT: Born in Montréal, March 14, 1915; died in Montréal, April 1, 2005

In this imaginative little work, the composer “attempts to duplicate design in musical terms” from drawings his young son Denis brought home from school one day. The listener is free to create in his or her own mind forms and designs - in reverse order - what Denis’s picture might have looked like.

This eleven-minute work for string orchestra in three short movements dates from 1963. In the composer’s words, “it attempts to duplicate design in musical terms.” In his autobiography My Lives in Music, published just weeks before his death in 2005, Brott relates what inspired the work:

“At age nine, my son Denis came home from school with a drawing which I liked very much. I congratulated him, ‘Denis, this is very good! how did you do that?’
“He explained, ‘The teacher drew circles and triangles on the board and asked the class to do something with them. So I did.’

“The drawing really appealed to me because the question of form in music has always been of great importance to me. So I promised Denis, ‘The basis of your drawing is form. I’m going to use it as the motif of a piece. I’ll use exactly your shapes, a circle, triangle and four squares, but I’m going to do them in musical terminology.’ It struck me that Denis’ drawing was the perfect opportunity for a composition using a neo-classical concept of basic structure. To create the composition, I used a sheet of graph paper, one square per note, and matched the notes to the different shapes in his drawing. Denis’ picture still hangs on my dining room wall.”

Brott conducted the premiere of Circle, Triangle, Four Squares with the McGill Chamber Orchestra in 1963 and subsequently took it on tours of Europe. The three movements are in turn lively, meditative and exuberant.” Pungent dissonances and gritty textures reminiscent of Bartók in fuse the music, while driving, asymmetrical rhythms typical of Stravinsky provide the forward momentum.
Robert Markow

© 2010, Robert Markow

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