Fortuitous Variations


C.S. Peirce (1839 – 1914) wrote that "three modes of evolution have thus been brought before us: evolution by fortuitous variation, evolution by mechanical necessity, and evolution by creative love." Fortuitous Variations tries to capture something of Peirce's extravagance of thought; music growing, changing, and always almost not quite bursting at its seams.

The notion of order as an emergent property of chance and flux threads itself through all of Peirce's works, as well as those of his great friend and supporter William James (1842 – 1910); the title of Fortuitous Variations and its constituent movements, as well as various tempo and character markings in the scores, are drawn from the writings of Peirce, James, and one of his great heroes, Aristotle. This piece was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation. The work is dedicated, emphatically, to Trio Cavatina.

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Over the course of the four movements a small array of intervals folds on to and out of itself, generating new patterns, passages, textures and harmonic lattices that are themselves only smaller neighborhoods within the greater and more greatly varied manifold that is the work in toto. In parallel, three different means projections of musical time are operative: the chronos of pulse, the aion of the cloud, the churning substrate of being. And everywhere, the device of developing variations pervades -- an overflowing of diversity held in check by forms and rhetorics, a diversity which conceals a deeper, intrinsic oneness while leading to a spiral of Heraclitian flux that is both violent and cathartic.

Movement Titles and Quotations

I. every deduction involves the observation of a diagram

"I have proven that every Deduction involves the observation of a Diagram (whether Optical, Tactical, or Acoustic) and having drawn the diagram (for I myself always work with Optical Diagrams) one finds the conclusion to be represented by it. Of course, a diagram is required to comprehend any assertion." C.S. Peirce in a 1909 letter to William James

II. the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another

"[E]xtensity, being an entirely peculiar kind of feeling indescribable except in terms of itself, and inseparable in actual experience from some sensational quality which it must accompany, can itself receive no other name than that of sensational element. It must now be noted that the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another. Its dimensions are so vague that in it there is no question as yet of surface as opposed to depth; 'volume' being the best short name for the sensation in question." William James, from "The Principles of Psychology" (1890) CHAPTER XX THE PERCEPTION OF SPACE; Section 1: THE FEELING OF CRUDE EXTENSITY

III. so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless.

"Just, in fact, as the vessel is transportable place, so place is a non-portable vessel. So when what is within a thing which is moved, is moved and changes its place, as a boat on a river, what contains plays the part of a vessel rather than that of place. Place on the other hand is rather what is motionless: so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless. Hence we conclude that the innermost motionless boundary of what contains is place." Aristotle, The Physics Book IV, Chapter 4

IV. The dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement

"Pure Play has no rules, except this very law of liberty. It bloweth where it listeth. It has no purpose, unless recreation.... The dawn and the gloaming most invite one to Musement; but I have found no watch of the nychthemeron that has not its own advantages for the pursuit. It begins passively enough with drinking in the impression of some nook in one of the three Universes. But impression soon passes into attentive observation, observation into musing, musing into a lively give and take of communion between self and self. If one's observations and reflections are allowed to specialize themselves too much, the Play will be converted into scientific study; and that cannot be pursued in odd half hours." C.S. Peirce, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God"