First performed at the Blackheath Concert Halls on Friday 15th March 1991 by The Composers' Ensemble led by Nicholas Daniel.
1991 was “Mozart” year. The New Macnaghten Concerts were promoting a short series of concerts: Mozart to Post-Modernism. Nicholas Maw, Colin Matthews and myself offered realizations of Mozart's A Musical Dice Game (Ein Musikalisches Würfelspiel). Due to a cancellation, my own contribution was only requested some nine days before the concert.
Three things influenced my approach to this piece: John Cage's adage that the amount of time available to write a work is a vital component of the composition, Cage's application of chance mechanisms in his own compositions (pre-empted in Mozart's dice-game), and a radio disc-jockey's comment to the effect that had Mozart been alive today he would have been writing “pop” songs. Using this last's spurious logic it seemed that, had Mozart the billiard player been alive today, he would have played snooker*, and so I set about devising a version of the dice-game whereby the form and content of the final composition would be determined by the form and content of a game of snooker. The violinist Peter Leighton-Jones was my opponent in the five-frame game played at the Tatler Snooker Club, Walthamstow, London, England on March 8th 1991 upon which this piece is based.
The first 16 bars of each frame (32 with repeats) conform to the letter of the Musical Dice-Game rules, except my wife Kate (rather than me) threw the dice, and the instrumental setting owes little to authentic performance practice.
After the initial 16 (32) bars, the "snooker rules" are enforced. These are as follows:
The first 16 bars (32 with repeats!) of each “frame” form the blue-print for that frame. The snooker balls are assigned “bar number” values thus: red-1/9, white-2/10, yellow-3/11, green-4/12, brown-5/13, blue-6/14, pink-7/15, black-8/16. This ensures that the final six bars at least of each frame will always retain a certain integrity. Only “scoring” shots count. Balls that I pot successfully are represented by major mode versions of the Mozart original, my opponent's successes by minor ones. Flukes (accidentally successful pots) are represented by random transpositions of the given material, whilst fouls are represented by the final chord of Mozart's A Musical Joke. The fourth frame records the only use of the “long rest”.
Mozart's original is written in C major but, for the sake of tonal variety, each of my frames is set a minor third higher than its predecessor. The third reverses Mozart's wholly major modality to become a “minore” variant. The first and last frames remain in C.
Unless you and your opponent are professional snooker players, it is very likely that many consecutive reds are potted and very few subsequent colours. A slight liberty was thus taken with the rules in order to stop the piece sounding too much like Philip Glass.
*Snooker is a “pool”-type game thought to have been invented by British Soldiers in India during the late nineteenth century.
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