Tobias Picker, an incredibly active and decorated American composer, was commissioned in 1996 by Northwestern University to write a piece for Ursula Oppens to premiere at Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, the Konzerthaus in Berlin, and Theatre des Champs-Elysées.
The four etudes tend to fall into two categories in terms of musical approach – lyrical writing [closely tied to Picker’s operatic style], and mechanistic writing [a style epitomized by George Anthiel’s Ballet Méchanique in the 1920’s].
One of the musical tools that Picker exploits a great deal in etudes 2-4 is polyrhythm. Polyrhythm occurs when two conflicting rhythms share the same space – they usually adhere to the same meter, but subdivide the beat differently. Picker uses polyrhythm in incredibly sophisticated and effective ways in the Etudes for Ursula.
Can you find the polyrhythm in these examples?