Palimpsest: A Composition of Maps (2003)

for piano, violin
By Douglas Boyce

Palimpsest: A Composition of Maps (an isentropic semaphore on the Name of Asmira Woodward-Page) is part of an ongoing series of soggetto cavato pieces the I have written, in this case on the name and at the commission of violinist Asmira Woodward Page. This term, originally soggetto cavato dalle parole a subject ‘carved out of the words,’ was coined by Zarlino in 1558 to denote the special class of thematic subjects for polyphonic compositions that were derived from a phrase associated with them by matching the vowels of the words to the corresponding vowels of the traditional Guidonian solmization syllables (ut re mi fa sol la). My system of transliteration derives from Ravel’s refinement of the system described by Zarlino in 1558; each letter of the alphabet ‘maps’ on to one of the 12 pitches, producing a more chromatic fundamental set than either Ravel’s or Zarlino’s system. In the second movement, A Composition of Maps, this fundamental set is presented, and then partitioned and transformed over the course of the entire piece.

This original map (letters -> notes) is, however, not the only map occurring in the work. Palimpsest, based is as its name implies a writing over of Kyle Bartlett’s Bandiera Rosa, itself a soggetto cavato on the same name. Thus a more accurate map of the compositional process might be:

letters of name -> sound of name -> notes (KB) -> BR (KB) -> Palimpsest (DB)


letters of name -> sound -> notes (KB) -> BR (KB) -> Palimpsest (DB) -> AWP’s performance of Palimpsest

or perhaps even:

AWP -> AWP’s name -> letters of name -> sound -> notes (KB) -> BR (KB) -> Palimpsest (DB) -> AWP’s performance of Palimpsest

thus closing the circle.

This chain could be extended forward to encompass the listeners hearing/reading of the work, or back through the generations to Ravel, or Zarlino, or those dimly perceived Phoenician constructors of the first alphabet, for that matter. Borgesian thoughts like this, besides keeping me up at night, are useful in reflecting on the fact that all works as rewritings of other works, perhaps even rewritings of pieces the composer has yet to write.

Palimpsest, A Composition of Maps has been commissioned by Concert Artists Guild and written for Asmira Woodward Page

Other works by Douglas Boyce:
“The future is what the present can bear.”
--Robert Fripp