Partita is a simple piece. Born of a love of surface and structure, of the human voice, of dancing and tired ligaments, of music, and of our basic desire to draw a line from one point to another.
It was written with and for Shaw's dear friends in Roomful of Teeth. Inspired by Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 305.
Passacaglia was premiered in 2009 before the rest of the piece was finished in 2013. Shaw was a Pullitzer Prize winner in 2013 for Partita for 8 Voices.
Click here for a partial score.
The movement is written in three clear sections that can be defined as ABA'. The two A sections are characterized by beautiful major triads that move mostly in parallel motion to the next major triad. On a few occasions, the minor triad is employed, but generally the piece uses only major chords. Also characterizing the two A sections is the lack of text. Shaw indicates what performers should do with their mouths through IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols ranging from a pure oo, as in 'hoot' to a very nasally eh, as in 'wet'.
The B section is essentially the passacaglia section as the voices perform a fugue of spoken text between lines in the soprano and bass. While the text is only discernible for a few measures, it is clear that the subject is geometric angles and the performers relationship to them.
This piece reminds me of electronic compositions for multiple reasons. The difficulty is the most obvious reason, as the performers must know the piece extremely intimately, in order to perform the parallel major triads and spoken fugues accurately. Sonically, the parallel major triads sound like something you hear while experimenting with a low grade computer software program for music composition. However, Shaw's use of vowels and voice placement (chest/head) makes the parallel triads are maturely haunting, yet beautiful, sound.
It is tough to imagine anyone performing this piece outside of Shaw's group, Roomful of Teeth. The complexity of the harmonies, rhythms, and spoken fugues makes this piece quite inaccessible to the average performers. However, the compositional techniques are satisfyingly unique in a way that is not accomplished very often.
Caroline Adelaide Shaw. Official Website. Accessed May 2, 2014. http://carolineshaw.com/o/