Event Horizons

by Matthew Whittall

Empty sheet

Matthew Whittall

Event Horizons


The work takes its title from an astronomical term referring to the boundary in a black hole beyond which space and time are warped to the point that light can no longer escape. It is an intensely emotional piece, stemming from reflections on the immensity of the universe and my own place in it. The title was merely a catalyst, an image that sparked the creative process. I was also affected greatly by the spaciousness and subtle intricacies of Eastern music – the gamelan music of Bali in particularly. Much of the resulting music is reminiscent of the ringing of bells or gongs, which in so many cultures has great ceremonial and spiritual importance. I saw it as a sort of symbol of connection between the natural and metaphysical worlds. At its core, Event Horizons is a kind of intense rite of passage, a quest for ultimate understanding, and perhaps reaches it, at least in part.

The three movements are cyclical in that they all share thematic material. The first movement begins quietly with the notes Ab and Bb, with the two instruments absorbing one another’s thematic ideas. The movement is all fits and starts, reaching one climax after another, only to start again on the same two notes. After the stormy conclusion of the first movement, the second starts ominously. It was inspired by the Hindu myth of the dance of Shiva, the simultaneous creation and destruction of the universe. Flying by in asymmetrical meters until it comes to a halt in the more contemplative, but equally active middle section. The dance begins again, becoming wilder and more uncontrolled as it finishes its headlong rush, crashing into the third movement without a pause. Over a sustained rumble in the piano, the saxophone intones a chant-like theme, which is then varied seven times. The variations encompass the main musical ideas of the first two movements, but ultimately put aside all complexity of development and seek their own resolution in the two notes which began the work.

Shortly after beginning the first movement, I was given a book of poems by Octavio Paz, one of which seemed to capture the mood of the piece precisely. That same day, Paz died. This coincidence was so powerful that the poem became a kind of guide as I worked on the piece:

I am a man: little do I last

and the night is enormous.

But I look up:

the stars write.

Unknowing I understand,

I too am written,

and at this very moment

someone spells me out.

© Matthew Whittall


alto saxophone and piano


Chamber Works


Brian Sacawa, alto saxophone, Michael Golzmane, piano, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, November 16, 1998.

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