Mikel Kuehn - Works

Deus ex Machina (2002), for large orchestra.

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Deus ex Machina (2002), for large orchestra.

Program Note

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines deus ex machina (a god from a machine) as: 1) “A god introduced by means of a crane in ancient Greek and Roman drama to decide the final outcome.” and 2) “A person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.”

The concept of deus ex machina reveals many insights into the structure of this large orchestral piece, which was commissioned in 2001 for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago under the direction of Cliff Colnot. The term can be applied to describe many aspects of the creative process (e.g., using a “form” or “plan” to spawn creative ideas). While that is one implication, another is the musical character of the piece itself, which is one of conflict. The work opens with a series of dark, shifting sonorities, mainly vertical in character and ends with a soaring melody in all 30 violins. The road between is full of twists, turns, mood shifts, and conflicts – basically a battle of conformity versus individuality. The elixir is a “melody” that is suddenly introduced at the end of the second section and leads to a battle of horizontal (linear or melodic) versus vertical (harmonic) material in the fourth section (and the rest of the piece).

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