About "2.5-Part Invention" (1995-6)
Noam D. Elkies

The piece was conceived and started on an airplane flight to Israel in May 1995, and after intermittent progress finally reached its present form in February 1996. At that point, what had started as a 2-part invention had thickened in spots to three parts, whence the whimsical title, though 2.1 parts may be a more honest count. However titled, the piece is strongly indebted to and inspired by the keyboard music of J.S.Bach; more specifically, it achieves a task suggested by the C#-major prelude of WTC I. In that prelude, as in my Invention, the first four phrases rise four steps in the ``Circle of Fifths'' as the left and right hands trade musical themes. In Bach's prelude, the next phrase quickly goes back down the Circle to the home key and a further, fifth step to the subdominant, whence the rest of the piece re-establishes the tonic. I wondered whether I could, in an audibly Bach-like context, make my way all the way around the Circle of Fifths and back. Fortunately enjoyment of the resulting 2.5-minute piece does not require keeping track of where along the Circle we are and how many times we've gone around it to get there. For those who do want to keep score, the first section goes up from C to C and up one more fifth to the dominant G, for a total of 13; the second half descends from G to G and then -- as in Bach's prelude -- further via C to F, finally reaching equilibrium at the tonic C, but not before almost the entire Circle of Fifths has been further compressed into two fast 5/8 bars.

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