for 6 solo voices SMzCtTT(orBar)B (2012-16)
to Ekmeles and Jeffrey Gavett
Primo Libro is an attempt to write a ‘primal’ madrigal book exploring fundamental relationships of text, sound, harmony, contour and expression, consisting of 18 short madrigals for one, two or four voices, each lasting about a minute and operating as parts of the whole rather than separate pieces. It is written in 31-division Equal Temperament (31-ET), a close approximation of extended quarter-comma meantone, in which major and minor triads on all scale degrees can be tuned near-justly. The 31-degree scale was theorised and applied to vocal and keyboard music in the mid-16th century by Nicolà Vicentino but fell into disuse after his death. As well as distinguishing between sharps and flats (C# being a different, flatter pitch than Db, etc.), 31-ET also employs 1/5-tone sharp and flat pitches to make a scale in which all notes are approximately 1/5 of a tone (38.71c) apart. Much of the music of Primo Libro exploits 31-ET’s propensity for nearly-pure major and minor triads. Additionally, neutral triads (the third degree of the scale exactly bisected between major and minor) are used, as well as more closely-spaced chords, echoing Vicentino’s theories of diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic harmony.
f.p. (excerpts) EXAUDI/James Weeks, Aldeburgh Festival, 10 June 2017
f.p. (complete work) Ekmeles/Jeffrey Gavett, New York, 7 October 2017