M.C. Escher is known for his mind-bending prints that frequently created impossible geometry or meshed perspectives in unexpected ways. I remember learning about tessellations in a middle school math class and being mesmerized by the repetitive interlocking of non-abstract shapes that fit perfectly with each other as they sprawled across a page, and discovering Escher's unique vision for using tessellation in his art. Today I find a strong inclination towards writing music about both symmetry and surrealism. Escher Triptych is a work focused on both broad and specific symmetries, and its sound world is characterized by extensive use of glissandos, or fluid slides between pitches.
In Escher's 1952 woodcut print, Puddle, he depicts a surprisingly realistic image of the reflection in a puddle of water that has formed in the midst of symmetrical footprints and tire tracks on a soft, muddy ground.Turning the print upside down shifts the perspective to focus on the forest and moonlit sky. My first movement of this triptych is symmetrically constructed, allowing for two different perspectives on the same musical materials. The opening ethereal effect in the violin and yearning melody in the cello is set against its inverse towards the end - a declamatory violin melody that soars over strained but resonant cello glissandos.
Escher's 1946 lithograph print, Magic Mirror, depicts a procession of griffins (winged lions) emerging from a mirror, slightly tilted from our perspective. As the griffins move, single-file away from the mirror, their reflection surprisingly yields a second procession emerging from behind the mirror, as if the reflections were more than just images. The griffins on both sides of the mirror then circle back towards the center and begin to morph into a tessellated pattern that merges in the center.The second movement of my triptych features angular gestures that bounce back and forth between the two instruments, as if creating a musical tessellation. Energy builds and short rhythmic outbursts turn into symmetrical glissandos that rapidly expand out of a central point. At its high point, the music suddenly jumps back to the angular gestures before the mid-point, but now they are heard exactly in reverse until the music unwinds all the way back to the beginning.
The third movement is characterized by extremely slow glissandos that warp pitches from one harmony to another. I felt that the feeling I had hearing this was similar to when I viewed Escher's 1956 Print Gallery lithograph. Its warped lines and shifting perspectives show a person in a gallery viewing a picture of a city, and in that city is a building that has an art gallery in which a person is looking at a painting of the city. Escher depicts this fluidly and not like a mirror-in-mirror effect, so the effect on the viewer is extremely disorienting while also
Escher Triptych was composed for the inaugural Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music and premiered by Johnny Gandelsman, violin, and Joshua Roman, cello on September 19, 2017 in Boonville, California.