Pelog Partita

Gender, viola, cello, and percussion

Duration: 20 min.

In 1993-94 I was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on a Fulbright Fellowship. While there, I commissioned several traditional Javanese instruments from a local instrument builder. In particular, I had him build a pair of génder (pronounced with a hard "g"), the wonderfully mellow and versatile Indonesian metallophone that I was also studying at the time. Both génder were tuned to my own just intonation versions of pelog and slendro, the two classes of Indonesian tuning systems. I first composed Slendro Suite for the slendro instrument, cello, and gong, so naturally enough, Pelog Partita was needed as its counterpart. While slendro features five pitches distributed roughly equally within the octave, pelog has seven separated by clearly unequal step sizes. This gives pelog a very different character, and more possibilities. While this gender still has only five pitches per octave, Suhirdjan, who built the instrument, used a system of removable keys so that I can choose which five of the seven possible pitches I can play in any one movement. Very often the pitches are far away from their equal tempered counterparts, so the string players must retune to their instruments and adjust their pitches to match. I wrote this piece for and dedicated it to Cynthia Fogg and Tom Flaherty.