Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964) is an American composer working at the University of Chicago since 2010. Thomas's music avoids traditional forms and styles and focuses more on colorful harmonies and improvisatory-sounding rhythms. Double Helix, a short piece for two violins, was written for the dedication of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago in 2011.
Double Helix is a rather pleasant little piece for violin duet. To me, it certainly does not scream "super modern." The inspiration for musical techniques of this work go back to the Baroque with arabesques and trills. The Baroque was also the era in which violin virtuosity was on the rise. In this work, both violinists are considered to be the "virtuoso." Each part serves as the melody, but depends on the other for support. Much like a double helix, both parts are equal; there is no strong or weak strand (melody and accompaniment). This entire work is creating different colors through harmonies, rhythms, and register. The melody itself is not important here, but rather the atmosphere the colors create is paramount.
I decided to compare this to another of Thomas's works called Of Paradise and Light for string orchestra. I decided to do this, because I wanted to get more of a sense of her compositional style. Thomas is very focused on atmosphere and color. Both of these two works share a wide variety of colors and their compositional styles are very similar. Melody matters very little in her works, and instead the importance is placed on colors and register.
I enjoyed researching this composer, and found it interesting that she has written a lot of works for violin. While her works are more abstract and improvisatory in regards to a melody, the colors that she evokes from her works are exquisite.
Ferre, Stephen. "Thomas, Augusta Read." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed May 2, 2014. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/42559.
Thomas, Augusta Read. "Double Helix for Two Violins: World Premiere" (video). Accessed May 2, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W0wYVx4RCY.
Thomas, Augusta Read. "Mansueto Tribute, double helix (2011): Program Notesby the Composer." http://www.augustareadthomas.com/mansuetotribute.html.
Thomas, Augusta Read. "The University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays Of Paradise and Light by Augusta Read Thomas" (video). Accessed May 2, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OusFUAs5n6Q