About this work:
Goldbeater's Skin exists in three published versions: clarinet or bass clarinet solo, small ensemble (both 1987), and electric violin solo (1988). As in much of my music, repetition and variation are primary concerns. The work consists of a single melodic line which is played a total of twenty-one times. On each repetition one pitch is transposed and passed off to other instruments, until finally the original melody emerges again in a different key and register. Also, the various fragments of the melody are constantly being re-ordered, so even though the tune sounds very familiar each time, it actually never occurs the same way twice. "Goldbeater's skin" is a name given to the outer lining of the large intestine of the ox, which is used in the pounding of gold leaf. It was also used to make the gas bags for Zeppelins, as many as 50,000 such skins for one airship.
Year composed: 1988
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Other Combinations, 6-9 players
Instrumentation: 1 Clarinet, 1 Bassoon, 1 Percussion (General), 1 Harpsichord, 1 Violin, 1 Cello
Instrumentation notes: Please pay attention - The low wind part may be played by either bass clarinet or bassoon. The "harpsichord" part was always intended to be a DX7 or some such synth set to a harpsichord-like patch. But it could probably be played on a real harpsichord. The "general percussion" is specifically a ratchet. It is a prominent and important part, but is almost always covered by a non-percussionist. This work is probably my all-time most-played, and still lends itself to alternative instrumentations: Relâche does it with contrabass and sopranino saxophone.