The idea of “tension and release” is used to describe a wide range of music. But what in fact causes this feeling of tension? Is it harmonic or timbral dissonance? Is it repetition? Certain kinds of motoric rhythm? And why do these particular sound combinations communicate such a feeling? One reason could be that these musical gestures abstractly depict a body experiencing tension. Obstinate, repetitive rhythms seem to embody the movement of twitching limb or chattering teeth, movements that in turn embody the feeling of tension.
“Clench and Release” explores this connection between physical sensation of tension and the musical materials used to express it. The piece is a sonata form of sorts whose materials place the pianist’s hands in various states of physical tension and relaxation. Sometimes the music’s physical activity and affective quality are in concert. At other points, they are opposed. My hope is that the piece achieves a cubist depiction of tension, one where the feeling is depicted from many angles at once.
“Clench and Release” was premiered at Rose Recital Hall, University of Pennsylvania, by pianist Erika Dohi.