Martin Boykan and Richard Festinger Harmonic Movement and Backgrounds

Martin Boykan and Richard Festinger Harmonic Movement and Backgrounds

26 October 2023 / William Anderson / Announcements, On the Beat, Compositions, recodings, composers, How to Talk about Music

In progress…

Yesterday at Oktaven Studios in Mount Vernon, New York, Cygnus recorded Martin Boykan’s “Diptych” and Richard Festinger’s “Hidden Spring”.

Some notes on Boykan, HERE. Those comments mostly about very immediate foreground/surface features in the guitar part. I concentrate on the guitar part because I explored it with my fingers and because it is a harmonic instrument. It is capable of holding the entire argument, like a piano, so it is employed to that capacity, carrying the background of the piece.

It was wonderful to discover the way the guitar picks up harmonic issues from the ensemble – specific pitches or collections. The guitar toys with them, moves them around a bit, and often closes them.

There is a dynamism between chromatic collections and diatonic collections.

“Moves them around a bit” –

–the ensemble sets a harmony
–the guitar adopts it
–by tweaking it (altering a few components of it), but returning to it, Bokyan establishes it as a middle ground thing.
–“closes them” – the guitar then displaces that middle ground harmony, destroys it dispatches it. Measure 26, the low E to F breaks the spell.

Movement I – the guitar’s presence has been established in its passive whole tone mode of being. Whole tone collections are a perfectly closed symmetry. They can be active in certain contexts, in Diptych they are static, passive.

The C# in measure 26 foreshadows the background movment that we’ll experience in movement II.

The structural significance of [ E, A, D, G, F# ] is clear when it reappears at the end of movement I –

This is the background of Diptych. A movement into Lydian, like Terry Riley’s “In C” and Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, movement 2, which is openly inspired by Perotin. In this, Reich, Riley and Boykan partake of a grand narrative. There is no harm or shame in that. The alternative is a capricious narrative. I delve into this HERE and HERE.

The neutralizing move in m. 26 is the low E to F, here the move is the inversion A to Ab. This is another not to the inversional relationships in binary forms, including sonata form. The chromatic trichords and tetrachords everywhere build a role for themselves.

F# in 3rd beat of m. 104 reminds us of where we’re been.

Boykan opens and closes the piece with whole tone harmonies. Almost a jazz/French modernist mannerism. The heart of his harmonic argument is that dynamism between chromatic and diatonic, and the whole tone frame neutralizes that dynamism.

The ending –

Martin Boykan had some things to tell me & Cygnus and before he died I had only a faint grasp of his message. All we want is, “I see.” I do see, and I’m so sorry he died before I saw.

Yesterday, Richard called “Hidden Spring” his most original work. We did not discuss details and that’s better. It is preferable to get to originalities one’s own. I’m mostly flailing around in the dark. I have no idea how this piece works, but it works beautifully. I get it. I feel it..

Hidden Spring was the result of a Fromm commission. It was written long before Boykan’s Diptych, in the 00s, I think.

The opening and closing passages are lush, luxuriant, and I think these passages grab people and draw them in. There is gentle harmonic motion expressed with swirls of motion.

There pitch fields.Those can be block-like or static, but as we feel around in them, it is like the movement of our eyes across a still life or a landscape. We feel some feng shui. Pitch fields still or static by nature, by definition, yet they can give a foreboding of movment before they move.

Take the moves in Boykan’s piece and embed them in much larger collections, fixed in place. Only the Boykan subsets move. We’d feel that motion, but it would be complicated by a wealth of associations and the sense of motion would be muted by the fixities around it.

Milton Babbitt does this, but in a much different manner. Babbitt’s focal harmonies are hexachords, and yet the significant moments will be displacements of smaller subsets of the hexachord. Something like 015 unseated by 025, but that in a hexachordal context.

Once we’ve taken in Festinger’s static landscape, there’s a demiurgical quality to the movement. What causes the godhead to move out of itself? What is the source of the hidden spring? There are hosts of traditions dealing with this question of the first movement. We don’t have to care about the esoteric analogies, but those analogies really do help to model how we feel in big pitch fields as they come around to moving out of themselves.

I starting a conversation with Babbitt about Scipio’s dream and its musical implications and Babbitt shot back, “I’ll Scipio that.”

I tried to show how Boykan creates a middle ground by dwelling in certain harmonic spaces. Same here, and Festinger’s harmonic rhythm is often slower, he dwells longer, building a restive feeling.

See the mandolin and guitar lick, below. At measure 120, the bar before reherasal letter H, below, the harmony is static, passive. At letter H, the mandolin takes a step out, kicking C# to D, but it’s more of an inflection, as the C# remains fixed in the violin. The mandolin’s busy doings are like an itch waiting to be scratched. The guitar is less busy, but still trying to move out of passivity. The guitar landing on A casts a new light on the returning D in the mandolin. That is motion against fixity – oblique harmonic motion. The demiurge moves obliquely as it thinks about moving out of itself.

If the demiurge chooses to move out of itself into creation, the material in the middle of the mandolin and guitar licks might offer a clue to how that movement will feel and how it will work. In fact, there are many local minor thirds and tritones, like Wuorinen’s Hexadactyl. Those can be passive, as here, or active. They’re mildy active here, but the action happens against the fixity of the sustaining instruments.

The mandolin lick arpeggiates over pitches in the sustaining instruments. Adjutants of those fixed pitches tend to be minor third adjutants? Guitar – F# is set in the violin; guitar toggles it to D#. C natural is set and it relates again to D#.

This is exactly as in Wuorinen’s Hexadactyl and my variations on Long Ago and Far Away – minor thirds relating over various time spans.

I hear plenty of 045 or 015 – perhaps there is here a concern with 034 as a common set in both octotonic and augmented scale, with 034 linking between the two?

Here’s a mandolin lick where the minor third G# to B represents a small move, instigating something in the sustaining instruments. The B breaks out of the tight knot that is winding up to move outside of itself. The indication in the flute, violin and cello parts, “nervous; restive” befits the mood of a demiurge that is building an urge to move out of itself –


  1. (of a person) unable to keep still or silent and becoming increasingly difficult to control, especially because of impatience, dissatisfaction, or boredom.


The doings in Hidden Spring are a bit Carter-like, while being 100% Festinger. Carter’s “Luimen” has mandolin eddies like this, like surfing an eddy on a tidal river.

More, in the fullness of time…..