12 Tone Bach

12-Tone B-A-C-H (2001) – 5′
for Solo Piano or Harpsichord

Premiered by David Adams at the Irish Composers’ Collective 10th Anniversary Festival, Project Arts Centre, 19th Nov 2014
12-Tone B-A-C-H was a simple dodecaphonic affair using a clever 12-tone series based on Bach’s B-A-C-H motif, which is introduced on the piano before being treated fugally with a subject and counter-subject. This leads to swelling dynamics and ends with a solemn quiet ending, perhaps a lament for the form of fugue, dodecaphony as a compositional system, or for Bach himself. The piece comes across as both a critique of the twelve tone system, and as a sentiment of praise for contrapuntal writing. – Ben McHugh (AIC New Music Journal)
MIDI Recording

Programme Note

I have long had an interest in the idea of using all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, but not in such a systematic way as Schoenberg and the other serialists did. I am strongly against the use of serial technique to dictate the entire structure of a piece of music and abhor Schoenberg, serialism and its followers.

​However, with this piece for piano written in 2001 I contradicted myself in a way, because a twelve note row forms the basis of this piece. I have used twelve-note rows in some of my other pieces but never systematically. I often create them in such a way that they sound tonal or modal, so only the keenest of listeners would notice they are twelve-note rows.

With this piece I kind of went against my principles by basing the whole piece on a twelve note row followed by the famous BACH motif which is taken from the German musical alphabet where B=Bb, and H=B natural. This Twelve-Tone B-A-C-H makes up the repeating bass line of this Chaconne for solo piano and therefore it is the basis of the piece’s structure, however that is where the systematic nature of the composition ends, most of the rest of the material in the piece was created intuitively without the use of any system.

The Twelve-Note B-A-C-H bass line has a very ominous quality and as a result this is one of my darkest pieces, it is quite densely chromatic and dissonant at times, with occasional passages of pure consonances. There is quite a strong jazz influence in some passages also and one or two minimalistic passages. This combination makes it a kind of Baroque Jazz Serialist Minimalist piano piece!