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Andrew Norman

Farnsworth: Four Portraits of a House

four clarinets, flute, violin, piano, percussion (2003)
Duration8'
Movements1. South Elevation
II. West Elevation
III. East Elevation
IV. North Elevation
PublisherSchott Music

Media

Program Note

In 1946, Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe began work on a weekend house for Dr. Edith Farnsworth in rural Illinois. Since its completion a few years later, the Farnsworth House has been regarded as an icon of the International School of architecture, its simple lines reflecting the Modernist quest for an absolute purity of form. But while many International School buildings make little or no reference to the natural world around them, the Farnsworth house embraces its surroundings; its transparent walls draw Nature in and mae it the primary focus of the design. 

It is the unique relationship between this object of High Modernism and the surrounding natural world - one of mutual enhancement rather than conflict or subjugation - that fascinates me, and it is this aspect of the Farmsworth House I have sought to portray in music. The instruments in this piece are divided into two ensembles. The four clarinets form the House Ensemble. In each of the four movements these instruments render a different elevation of the house in musical terms, the lengths of the notes precisely determined by the proportions of the porch, floor, roof, and vertical supports of the house. While the music of the House Ensemble is rigorously systematized, the music of the complimentary group of instruments, the Nature Ensemble, is just the opposite; the flute, violin, percussion, and piano play non-coordinated gestures - many determined by chance procedures - meant to evoke the ever-changing colors of the natural world. 

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