Born in Rio de Janeiro, Marcos Balter studied in the U.S., graduating with honors from Northwestern University, where his teachers included Augusta Read Thomas, Amy Williams, and Jay Alan Yim. He has held positions at several universities, and is currently an Associate Professor of Music Composition at Montclair State University. His collaborators range from the Mivos Quartet to Deerhoof, and from the International Contemporary Ensemble to the Orquestra Experimental da Amazonas Filarmônica. His commissions have come from presenters ranging from Chamber Music America to the MacArthur Foundation, and his works have been featured in venues from Carnegie Hall and Le Poisson Rouge to the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival and the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan.
When asked about the meaning of the first movement of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, the conductor Arturo Toscanini allegedly said: “To some it is Napoleon, to some it is philosophical struggle. To me it is simply Allegro con brio.” To take that staunchly abstract approach to Things fall apart, we might say that it is “about” minor seconds and diminished fifths, and their microtonal, and detuned variations and inversions. These intervals – and other harmonic stepchildren unloved in the tonal system – generate a softly pulsating, inchoate sonic field from which chords and arpeggios emerge.
The title of the piece comes from W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” (which also provided the title for Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart). “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” Yeats wrote, and Balter does play with a type of musical entropy here. But there is also a sense of searching and even coalescence, and there is no “mere anarchy” to this formally rounded music.