The Time Curve Preludes

24 pieces for solo piano
written between 1977 and 1978
60 minutes

Notes | Selected Performances | Selected Press

The Time Curve Preludes--William Duckworth's Well-Tempered Clavier of minimalism, according to the American Record Guide--was written on a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. They reflect the coming together of Duckworth's long-term interests in new musical forms created through rhythm, the use of modal and synthetic scales, and the defining of musical centers of gravity with drones; drones heard as auras of sound hovering within and around each prelude.

Musically, The Time Curve Preludes focus on one principal melody, which is based on the Dies Irae, and include hints of Satie, Bluegrass banjo picking, and, on occasion, the piano playing style of Jerry Lee Lewis, all held in musical space by a durational architecture based on proportional time. This architecture makes extensive use of the Fibonacci series, as well as additive, reductive, and cumulative structures that Duckworth created. The Time Curve Preludes bring together most of the rhythmic ideas that interested Duckworth for years, as well as indicate the direction his subsequent work was to take.

• Premiere: Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT; Neely Bruce; Feb. 6
• New Music America; Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; Neely Bruce
• Roulette, New York; Neely Bruce
• Pro Musica Nova; Bremen, West Germany; Marianne Schroeder
• Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition, New York; Jack Weinrock
• 1st Conference on American Music; Tianjin, China; Jack Weinrock
• 33. Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik; Darmstadt, West Germany; Marianne Schroeder
• La Nuova Musica Americana; Gorizia, Italy; Oscar Pizzo
• Festival Musica Nova; San Paolo, Brazil; Beatriz Roman
• Riverside Park Arts Festival, New York; Neely Bruce
• Melbourne, Australia; David Ward-Steinman
• Minimalism Redux; Roulette, New York; Margaret Leng Tan
• Festival of Havana, Havana, Cuba; Oscar Pizzo
• Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, SC; (20th Anniv. celebration); Judith Gordon
• Merkin Concert Hall, New York City; (20th Anniv. celebration); Judith Gordon
• Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; Sarah Cahill
• Mandala, Tokyo, Japan; Tomoko Yazawa
• Toppan Hall, Tokyo, Japan; Judith Gordon
• Mini[ ]Max Festival, The Powerhouse, Brisbane, Australia; Donna Coleman
• Melbourne Conservatory, Melbourne, Australia; Donna Coleman
• Auditorium, Parco Della Musica, Rome, Italy; Oscar Pizzo
• Gilmore Keyboard Festival, Kalamazoo, Michigan; Bruce Brubaker
• Suginami Koukaidou, Tokyo, Japan; Tomoko Yazawa
• New England Conservatory, Boston, MA; Bruce Brubaker
• The Stone, New York City; Bruce Brubaker
• Israelische Cultusgemeinde, Zurich, Switzerland; Iris Gerber
• Verdi Conservatory, Milan, Italy; Oscar Pizzo
• Le Poisson Rouge, New York City; Bruce Brubaker
• The Stone, New York City; The Time Curve Variations; Ritsu Katsumata, electric violin
• Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA; Bruce Brubaker
• Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA; Paavali Jumppanen
• Avila University, Kansas City, MO; R. Andrew Lee
• Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT; Neely Bruce
• Queensland Conservatorium, Brisbane, Australia; Liam Viney
• Minimalism At 50 Festival, London, England; Katia and Marielle Labeque


I had the feeling I had never really heard any of these combinations of notes before
Tom Johnson, The Village Voice, 1980

Whatever you choose to call it, it is something special.
Keyboard Magazine, 1983

The piece is moody. It is frenetic, then mantric, then lyrical, then chaotic, then silky.
Option Magazine, 1984

24 surprisingly rich sonic milieus, all of them
Fanfare, 1984

I was struck by the delicate nature of the music,...and the sense of lonely abandonment that
pervades the sound.

Thom Holmes, Recordings, 1984

a work of captivating beauty. One has the impression of hearing a kaleidoscope.
Musical America, 1986

Incidentally, there is some important critical work to be done on those modern exhaustive keyboard
pieces that reflect Bach's late masterpiece--not only Cage's Sonatas and Interludes but Philip Glass's
greatest work, Music in Twelve Parts (1974), which is essentially a keyboard work, and William Duckworth's
more recent Time Curve Preludes (1977-78), and behind them Dmitri Shostakovitch's Preludes and Fugues
and Paul Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis.

Richard Kostelanetz, "The Anarchist Art of the Polyartist" Keynote lecture, John Cage at Wesleyan, Feb. 1988

a series of meditations with a neo-Renaissance emphasis on number, proportion and quotation. Along
with Cage's Etudes Australes and the Messiaen works named [Vingt Regards and Catalogue d'oiseaux],
they're likely to be one of the 20th century piano cycles most often performed in the 21st.

Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, 1988

You could date the movement [Postminimalism] 1979, the year of William Duckworth's Time Curve
Preludes: that was the first major work that sounded minimalist but refused to satisfy minimalist expectations. Since then, postminimalism has become the lingua franca of under-50 composers across the continent

Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, 1991

William Duckworth's Well-Tempered Clavier of minimalism, the 24 Time Curve Preludes...challenge the prejudice that a minimalist aesthetic must produce formless and endless repetition.
Lehman, American Record Guide, 1991

The first major, identifiably postminimalist work was Duckworth’s The Time Curve Preludes
H. Wiley Hitchcock with Kyle Gann, Music in the United States, 4th ed., 2000

I've often credited The Time Curve Preludes (written in 1978-79) as being the first postminimalist piece,...
Kyle Gann, “Minimalism's Immediate Legacy: Postminimalism,” NewMusicBox, Issue 31, Vol. 3, No. 7, Nov. 2001

Each prelude has its own profile. The five that Mr. Brubaker played — Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6 and 11, all from Book 1 — suggested the coruscating spirals of gamelan, Debussy’s luminous mystery, Ligeti’s prickly intensity and more. That this collection isn’t more widely recognized as one of the 20th century’s major piano works is puzzling; perhaps Mr. Brubaker’s assured advocacy will help redress that slight.
Steve Smith, "Modern Pieces, Classically Performed," The New York Times, 2008

Haunting repetitive patterns with hints of diverse musical idioms, like scat singing, Bartok dances and medieval chant.
Anthony Tommasini, "Feeding Those Young and Curious Listeners" The New York Times, 2009