Chords of Dust (1992) · 10 min

for large orchestra

3 flutes, oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones (3rd, bass), tuba, 4 percussionists, timpani, piano, strings

Winner of the 1993 Bay Area Composer’s Symposium, Marin Symphony

Chords of Dust was Anthony Paul De Ritis’s Masters Thesis

Chords of Dust was De Ritis’s masters thesis, composed in partial fulfillment of the master of music degree from Ohio University

Program Note

Chords of Dust was written while Anthony Paul De Ritis was a graduate student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio; and was composed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Mast of Music. It was premiered by the Ohio University symphony orchestra under the direction of Markand Thakar, on May 9, 1992, and would later be selected for a reading by the Marin Symphony under the baton of Gary Sheldon, on January 16, 1993.

One can hear in Chords of Dust the organic transformation of a harmonic world based on overtones—the fundamental acoustic sequence that led to the development of tonality. The whole piece seems to grow from the piano’s low B at the very beginning. That gesture instigates each of the major sections of the piece, suggesting a different continuation and orchestral expansion each time. The overall plan is nearly symmetrical, with two secondary climaxes flanking a loud and active central episode. The music of the first three minutes or so, beginning with that low B, gradually coalesces in a double climax around the pitch C, creating a fruitful friction between the two pitches that colors the whole piece. De Ritis’s deployment of instrumental sections, particularly percussion, creates a wealth of resonance; in general, each loud, dense section is balanced by a quiet, subtle one. The more unusual effects of in-strings piano, glissandi, and varied touches of percussion are different shadings of the more traditional sounds of string and brass chords, a bassoon solo, or the English horn solo that ends the piece, satisfyingly, on the B with which it began. 

     – Robert Kirzinger


“Of the works heard here, Chords of Dust, is the oldest (from 1992) and carries a special significance for the composer. The title comes from that of a poem by his father, Paul Anthony De Ritis, who was a poet and inspiration to his son. There is a real sentimentality and reflective sound to the work. Chords of Dust is easily the most ‘traditional’ sounding work on this program but the melodies are attractive, the orchestration is lush and the effect is quite nice. I found this work wholly engaging.”

     – Daniel Coombs, Audiophile Audition (July 31, 2012)

Chords of Dust, which was the composer’s first work for orchestra, is purely orchestral and yet already benefits from the composer’s work at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France, where he studied in 1991-92 with Phillipe Manuory, Tristan Murail and Gilbert Amy, and found an ear for colour and an appetite for manipulating sound.

     –  Laurence Vittes, Gramophone (October 1, 2012)

1992’s Clouds of Dust seems more straightforward, a tone poem inspired by the World War II memories of De Ritis’s father, but even here, the elements become noticeable as elements: the decorous march echoes, the mournful chorales, the Copland-esque optimism, the familiar toolbox for evoking the period and the event—but the arrangement positioned somewhere between those standard semiotic signals and a commentary on the act of signaling.

     –  Matthew Guerrieri, New Music Box (August 14, 2012)

“absorbing play of textures… exciting use of color”

     – Robert Commanday, San Francisco Chronicle (January 24, 1993)

View Score

Chords of Dust was recorded on June 30, 2010 in Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose; and released on BMOP/sound 1022, on April 30, 2012.