Rows from Ashley's Piano Sonata (1959)

Ashley's Piano Sonata, his only conventionally notated piece of music before the late 1980s, is also his only example of the strict serialism prevalent in comtemporary music of the late 1950s. It is based on a 36-note row divided into four nine-note sections (though one observes that it can also be partitioned into three 12-tone rows as well). Each phrase of the row, inscribed within a minor sixth, makes its way unevenly up the chromatic scale:

The row can easily be seen in the score excerpt below, and its upward chromatic motion heard in the audio example here ("Blue" Gene Tyranny playing):

Ashley's sketches reveal that the piece also uses a rhythmic row, augmented and diminuted by various factors to create variety. As shown in the following analysis, which squeezes the pitches into a single register, a single rhythmic row is used for the first nine measures. Beginning at measure 10, two rhythmic rows are used at once (though still only one pitch row), one of them (lower staff) the same as the original, the other three times as slow. That is, the rhythmic row as counted in 32nd-notes is 1 2 3 (1) 2 (3) 2/3 4/3, and so on. In the upper line at m. 10, those durations are multiplied by 3 to obtain: 3 6 9 3 6 9 2 4, and so on:

Interestingly enough, a curiously altered version of this work is also heard in the background in Episode 1 of Ashley's most autobiographical opera, Foreign Experiences, as you can hear here:

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