= Axioms – Nigel Morgan


Listen to quartet only

Sax quartet from With Enthusiasm (Yu), movement I.

Listen to quartet and continuo

Axioms comes from an on-going collection of music for instruments titled Instrumentarium Novum that aspires to re-examine some of the conditions for music making in our time. Instrumentarium is a term used by the conductor and scholar Nickolaus Harnoncourt to describe the common-place collection of instruments and performance practice found in Baroque and early Classical music.
Here there was an expectation that music would be enriched by all the instrumental variety and timbral variation the imagination of musicians could muster. Instrumentation and performance detail rarely dictated the nature of the music itself. Matters such as instrumental doubling, register placement, chord voicings, dynamics and articulation held a more speculative interpretation in the composer’s mind.

Listen to quartet only

Sax quartet from With Enthusiasm (Yu), movement III. Smaller notes in the upper parts indicate ossia material that can be played in the absence of a continuo trio.

Listen to quartet and continuo

Such a speculative approach has been celebrated in the composition of six works that take as their starting point the proportions and spirit of the concertos for mixed instrumental ensemble found in the music of Bach and Vivaldi. As in Vivaldi’s celebrated op.8 concertos there is in play a contest between harmony (technique) and invention.
Axioms reinvents the first three of the six concertos for the medium of a saxophone quartet with electric piano, double bass and percussion.

The scores presented here should be regarded like dramatic scripts in which the pitch and rhythm of the music is fully set out, but the detail of performance interpretation kept to a minimum. Indications of tempo, expression, dynamics, and articulation should be considered as a starting point for a personal interpretation. The generic title Axioms has been chosen to reflect a number of aspects surrounding the Instrumentarium project. The most significant concerns the titles of each octet.: With Enthusiasm, Making Progress, Being Receptive. These describe three of the axioms associated with the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. The hexagram images and their axiomatic proverb-like interpretations provide for each octet a kind of rhetorical affekt, giving a gentle measure of guidance to both performer and listener as to the overall character of each concerto. The expressive markings for each movement are also taken from the I Ching. The I Ching is an excellent example of an axiomatic system: a set of rules, which cannot, by definition, be reduced to a system with less rules. This means, amongst other things, that its elements cannot be described in less stringent terms, and most importantly, no ‘proof’ can be established that the system is true because the enumeration of instances of an axiomatic system would be boundless task, a classic infinity problem. In some respects the composition techniques employed in the Instrumentarium series simulate an encounter with such a system as the I Ching. Here the basic axioms are melodic phrases that have been abstracted from a random fractal of white noise. These phrases are laid onto an orchestration template derived from the Chinese magic cube that produces a field of instrumental activity across seven instrumental textures. The composer engages with this material in a largely spontaneous way using a system of i-functions which when applied to a score-sheet are able to produce almost instantaneously rough prototypes of musical score.

Click on the individual hexagram to find out about its meaning and possible interpretation:


With Enthusiasm (Yu) [pdf]

With Enthusiasm (Yu) Parts [zip]

With Enthusiasm (Yu) excerpt [mp3]

Six Concertos: An Introduction for Directors and Musicians [pdf]