At first, I wasn’t sure about the title of this piece, but gradually I’ve warmed to its present name. Tetrax is one of the six Ephesia grammata (Ephesian words) used beginning around the 4th or 5th centuries B.C.E. in Greece. They had no meaning in and of themselves but were thought to contain great power if recited properly, or if worn around the neck as an amulet. Their use continued sporadically, even into the early centuries of the common era in Graeco-Roman magical practice, attesting to the potency accorded to them.
Of the original six words, I chose tetrax for its obvious associations with the number four, and also as a subtle nod to the composer Iannis Xenakis, whose string quartet Tetras and saxophone quartet XAS were cursory influences on the present piece. I also chose this word as an appropriate analog to the piece, which was constructed as pure abstract music with no extra-musical associations like many of my other works possess. It has no specific meaning or program, and yet (I hope) it has some sort of inscrutable power, as I think much music does.
Tetrax is divided into two very clear parts. The first is a slow unfolding of a long melodic line, with two short interruptions; the second is a highly rhythmic homophonic dance made up almost entirely of symmetrical chords and interspersed with short fragments of interval cycles that sweep upward dramatically. Exactly why it is split into these two parts, I don’t know, though in my sketches I described the first part as “melody” and the second as “harmony” (or perhaps, horizontal and vertical). Perhaps there is some relation between this structure and the two parts that make up a magical spell in the Graeco- Roman world, that of the written spell itself and its ritualized recitation, although I certainly wasn’t conscious of this when composing. Almost every instrument in the piece is given some kind of solo, except for the soprano saxophone (don’t ask me why), and almost everyone runs nearly the full gamut of his/her range.
My sincerest thanks go to Shelley Jagow, who commissioned the piece, and the Avion Saxophone Quartet of Wright State University for their assistance in its composition, and also to the Kenari Saxophone Quartet for championing this work.
PARTS ARE AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE COMPOSER.