COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 65

Five Ko-ans for Orchestra (1976)

for Orchestra

  • Music of Changes
  • Ricercare
  • Ostinato
  • Music of Stillness
  • Isorhythmic Motet

Duration: 31 min.

Recording: Toccata TOCC0465

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Rosner composed his Five Ko-ans for Orchestra in 1976, during what was probably the most fruitful period of his creative life, and it is one of his most important works. A note in the score, provided by Rosner, defines the Zen concept of Ko-an as a “riddle, action, remark, or dialogue not comprehensible by rational understanding but conducive to intense or prolonged meditation (literally, from Chinese Kung-an, ‘public statement’)”. The five movements that comprise the work may thus be viewed as musical statements, the meanings of which may be inferred and understood via intuitive perception and they also serve as representations of five aspects of Rosner’s compositional personality. The first, “Music of Changes,” acts as both an introduction to and a summary of the work, as its eight minutes feature a contrasting array of psychological and musical visions: an eerie evocation of abject terror, ethereal serenity, tightly interwoven polyphony of medieval martial cast, unearthly inscrutability, delicate folk-like simplicity, swirling gusts of chaos from which emerge a stern chorale, solemn refection and an aggressive, frantic onslaught of vigorous activity, finally concluding in somber mystery. “Ricercare” is based on a polyphonic style that flourished during the early 1600s. This movement, evocatively spiritual in character, is closest to the origins of Rosner’s style. “Ostinato” (literally, “obstinate”) is built around a consistent, percussively emphatic pattern of crotchets (quarter-notes) in quintuple meter. “Music of Stillness” is a remarkable oasis of mysterious tranquility, centering on an enigmatic phrase that recurs throughout the movement, initially stated by the flute and vibraphone. “Isorhythmic Motet” is based on a technique used in medieval music which Rosner adapted to his aesthetic requirements in several works, such as his Fourth String Quartet, op. 56 (1972), and his Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, op. 89 (1990). (Notes by Arnold Rosner)