Research Output

Cantus 1.

  The objective in writing Cantus 1 was to produce a very controlled piece of violin writing using a limited number of pitches, while the piano plays a very passive role, quietly keeping time with chords echoing the violin's harmonies. The soundworld was inspired by works by Feldman and Hällnass, but the technique owes much to Perle's writing on pitch-class sets.

The balance between the piano's regular, slow pulse and the violin's irregular, active melody was crucial to the conception of the piece and much initial research was devoted to discovering the most effective proportions. The piano's pulse is slow to the point that the regularity becomes almost imperceptible, while the violin's irregular rhythms are so frequent and similar in duration to give the impression of an improvisation with a very loose beat.

The pitch content of the piece is very limited. Both instruments are restricted to a total of seven notes and play every single combination in vertical (piano) and horizontal (violin) forms of these pitches. While the static soundworld that this created was exactly what was needed, a fluid approach to the exploration of the register of the pitches lifts the texture and provides a constantly evolving interest. Throughout the piece, the violin wanders across the range of the instrument until, at the end of the piece, each of the seven pitches is registrally fixed (in contrast to the principle use of melodic line as a registeral determinant used elsewhere in the piece) and the piece takes on an almost obsessive feel before the violin breaks the strict seven-note set by introducing a new 'alien' note, with which the piece finishes.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    27 November 2002

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    M1 Music


Hails, J. (2002). Cantus 1. London, UK



Concert piece; Violin; Piano accompaniment;

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