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When we study a published score, we might begin by analyzing melodic gestures and harmony. The piano reduction of Jennifer Higdon’s bluegrass-inspired Concerto 4-3 (2007) gives us that opportunity, but it raises several additional issues. Typed commentary in the score sparks questions about the working relationship between composers and performers. Long sections of improvisation challenge traditional notions of analysis and create opportunities for the performers to put their own stamp on the work.

Due to the commentary, Higdon’s piano reduction looks like a relatively clean version of a working copy. At multiple points in the first movement, she writes specific questions to the players of the string trio Time for Three (Tf3), which premiered the work. This suggests a work in process, not a completed score, and provides insight into a continuing dialogue between the composer and the performers.

In terms of analysis, elements of bluegrass are readily apparent in the work, including blistering tempi and a sense of harmonic simplicity. Higdon, however, moves beyond the I, IV, and V chords, which are the harmonic pillars of traditional bluegrass playing. Her use of pedal points, repeated notes, occasional stasis, and parallel chords provide a modern spin on harmonic simplicity. Such analysis, though, is only possible for a portion of the work. Much of Concerto 4-3 is improvised. How, then, should a student or scholar approach analysis? Is it possible to analyze the work without transcriptions of the improvised parts? If the improvised parts change with every performance, how much emphasis or analysis should they receive? Such inquiries can easily spur a lively discussion and debate.

Though the improvised aspects of Concerto 4-3 raise questions, these same aspects allow performers to put their own stamp on the work. The performers participate in the compositional process as the work is presented, adding their unique voice to Higdon’s composed score. Whether or not this limits performances by groups other than Tf3 is certainly up for debate, but what remains indisputable is that Concerto 4-3 (2007) is a work that offers far more than notes.


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  • Event date
    • 11 November 2018

  • Date submitted

    19 July 2022

  • Additional information
    • 'Presenter Biography:

      Dr. Dallman (Laura Dallman Rorick) is a musicologist with a focus on orchestral music and performance in the 20th and 21st centuries. Her dissertation, “The Significance of Accessibility in American Orchestral Music,” addresses accessibility in regards to the symphony and symphonic works by Aaron Copland, Michael Daugherty, and Jennifer Higdon.

      Dr. Dallman received a Bachelor of Music in piano from Ball State University (2007) and both a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy in musicology from Indiana University (2009, 2017). She has presented her research at conferences in the United States, Ireland, England, and Wales. In her spare time, Dr. Dallman enjoys running, gardening, traveling, and reading a good book.