Music for Pieces of Wood

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Steve Reich

General Info

Year: 1973
Duration: c. 15:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Universal Edition
Cost: Score and Parts - $26.95   |   Score Only - $0.00


Player I: Clave (Tuned)
Player II: Clave (Tuned)
Player III: Clave (Tuned)
Player IV: Clave (Tuned)
Player V: Clave (Tuned)


Program Notes

Music for Pieces of Wood grows out of the same roots as Clapping Music: a desire to make music with the simplest possible instruments. The claves, or cylindrical pieces of hard wood, used here were selected for their particular pitches (A, B, C-sharp, D-sharp, and D-sharp an octave above), and for their resonant timbre. This piece is one of the loudest I have ever composed, but uses no amplification whatsoever. The rhythmic structure is based entirely on the process of rhythmic "build-ups" or the substitution of beats for rests, and is in three sections of decreasing pattern length: 6/4, 4/4, 3/4. - Note by Steve Reich[1]

In the economy of its instrumentation, Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood (1973) recalls the spare performing forces of the composer's Clapping Music (1972). As in the case of Clapping Music, however, Pieces of Wood exploits its modest means to create a rhythmic and metric discourse of surprising complexity. Modeled according to Reich's much-favored phasing technique, a single rhythmic figure is offset and overlapped with itself in a constantly evolving composite texture. Pieces of Wood calls for five musicians, each playing a pair of claves -- essentially, a short, tuned wooden rod struck against another. At first glance, the most complicated parts of the score are the detailed instructions regarding the sanding and boring required for proper tuning of the claves. The music begins simply enough: the first player lays down a featureless, metronomic beat that continues throughout the piece. The second player then joins in with a repeating twelve-note pattern. The other players join in one by one playing the same pattern as the second player, either in unison with him or offset by a few beats. When they enter, however, each does so note-by-note, so that several repetitions are necessary before they are playing the entire pattern. Because each clave is tuned to a specific pitch, an overall melodic and rhythmic texture slowly takes shape until a surprisingly complex web of composite sound emerges. This idea is then reversed as each of the players in turn begins to discreetly omit note after note from his pattern, until nothing but the original metronomic beat remains. This entire build-up/tear-down plan is repeated with shorter and shorter rhythmic patterns, until the process is completely exhausted.[2]


Commercial Discography

Amadinda-Steve Reich

Recent Performances

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Works for Percussion by this Composer

Drumming - Percussion Ensemble (9); Voice; Piccolo
Mallet Quartet - Percussion Quartet, Mallet Ensemble
Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ - Percussion Quartet; Voices; Organ
Music for Pieces of Wood - Percussion Quintet
Nagoya Marimbas - Marimba Duo
Piano Phase - Marimba Duo
Sextet - Percussion Quartet; Piano (2)
Six Marimbas - Percussion Sextet

Additional Resources