for flute

James Erber

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for flute

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Composer James Erber
Year of Composition 1991 rev. 2011, 2012 and 2021
Duration 17' 30"
Instrumentation Flute
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-je1t1


Traces is the first of three pieces for solo flute (the other two being Traces B and Traces C) which together comprise the ‘Traces’ Cycle. The cycle has its origin in a memory dating from my late teens. During a walking holiday in the Lake District, I came across what my Ordnance Survey map told me was the track of a Roman road. Clearly discernible through the grass, it ran directly across the path I was taking and disappeared into the horizon. I was moved and intrigued by the presence of what had been a major thoroughfare in this now barren and deserted landscape.

A single continuous rhythmic arch, correspnding to the Roman road of my memory, underlies all three pieces in the cycle. Just as the road I saw was the result of the effects of time and nature, the arch is subjected to several layers of variative activity. It undergoes up to three levels of rhythmic modification, and is also subjected to subsidiar y grids controlling further rhythmic treatment, use of various performance techniques, dynamics and other features. The overlaying of these strata creates music, which, throughout the course of each piece, is clearly undergoing constant modification, complex enough to defy categorisation into structural hierarchies, creating the kind of formal ambiguity notable in much of my output in the ten years prior to 1991 .

In Traces, the fragile consensus of the musical landscape is threatened in the final third of the piece by the introduction of a new type of material, characterised by repeated notes and a use of the flute’s lower register. Previously encountered material types begin to reappear, but the new material obdurately resists being subsumed by them and, to the end, the sense of an uneasy coexistence is maintained.

Traces was written for the Australian flautist Laura Chislett between August and November 1991 , and first performed by her at the Eglise des Billettes, Paris on 12th July 1993 as part of the Festival Lucero. It is dedicated to my then 7-year-old son Joseph Erber. The piece was revised in 2011 , 2012 and 2021 .