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Running the (Full) Gamut

Anthony Cheung

This piece took shape when I initially responded to a request for a harpsichord piece, but purely pianistic qualities kept emerging, rendering the initial impulse impossible. (There will be a harpsichord piece soon, but in a very different form). The title firstly refers to the colloquial expression itself, which has come to mean a wide-reaching or full scope of experience, influence, etc., and in that sense there are certainly traces of different musical genres here, from Olivier Messiaen to Herbie Hancock. But it’s also a play on the word gamut, a term with origins in medieval music theory (gamma ut), specifically the “hand" of Guido d’Arezzo, a visual representation of the entire range of notes and their various forms of organization. Accordingly, the very opening of the piece is a collection of six notes, corresponding to a Guidonian hexachord, soon expanded and with upper-register colorings that highlight their resonances, sounding somewhat like organ mixtures. The opening gesture keeps returning, but as harmonic clouds of increasing drama. The swirling, rhapsodic music of the first section gives way to sharply defined, syncopated melodies in the manner of an improvised solo, with an underlying, implied sense of displaced groove, reactive and anticipatory chordal comping, and lots of hand crossings. The coda fully transforms the opening, unleashing the full range – indeed gamut – of the piano and its harmonic, dynamic, and coloristic possibilities.

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