Regular Division of the Plane

Six Pieces for two pianos after M.C. Escher

Jack Van Zandt

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Six Pieces for two pianos after M.C. Escher

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Composer Jack Van Zandt
Year of Composition 2014 rev. 2018
Duration ca.25'

Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-jvz1rdp1


I. Banda Linda for Simha Arom
II. Labyrinth
III. Nocturne Scriabinesque
IV. Ritual
V. Mirrored Spiral
VI. Tropus in Memory of Elliott Carter


Regular Division of the Plane is taken from the title of M.C. Escher’s illustrated theoretical essay explaining his techniques and processes of graphic transformation. My admiration for his large “Metamorphosis” pictures brought me to his essay in my search for how he managed to create a flow of transforming recognizable shapes and images. It seemed to me that the effect he created was very musical, and it was no surprise to read that he was primarily influenced by Bach’s imitative counterpoint—utilizing the superimposition of thematic material with its retrograde, inverted, diminished and augmented forms, as especially evident in “A Musical Offering”—in his search for ways to permutate the geometric qualities of images in order to gradually transform them into other shapes. In my pieces I set myself the task of experimenting in finding ways to translate Escher’s graphic processes into musical ones, and create works that transform themselves over time in similar ways. Furthermore, I drew ideas from the music of Central Africa as well as works of other favorite composers where I found adaptable elements for creating transformational processes akin to Escher’s work. In the first instance, I was very much influenced by the decades-long research of my friend, ethnomusicologist Simha Arom, whose monumental book, “African Polyphony and Polyrhythm,” on the music of Central African groups such as the Banda Linda and Aka Pygmies, had a great influence on my construction of these pieces, as prominently displayed in the first and fourth movements (“Banda Linda for Simha Arom” and “Ritual”). In the second movement, “Labyrinth,” I made use of the imitative contrapuntal techniques of Bach retranslated and re-abstracted from Escher. The third piece, “Nocturne Scriabinesque,” adapts a shifting harmonic process suggested by the late works of Scriabin, and the fifth, “Mirrored Spiral,” is an homage to Gyorgi Ligeti, who was also influenced by Arom’s work in African music in composing his monumental set of piano etudes. The final piece, “Tropus in Memory of Elliott Carter,” adapts polyrhythmic devices pioneered by Carter in such a way as to create a free-flowing structure with a shifting metrical focus, and where the “secret code” of the piece is revealed in the final seconds.