small ensemble, chorus and solo voice

Composed in 1964, In C is intended for any instrumental or vocal combination. The score consists of a single page on which are written 53 motifs (or cells) each possessing a unique rhythmic and melodic (in the Ionian mode) identity. The global structure of the work is supported by a steady beat. Once this beat is established, each participant determines when he will begin, how often he will repeat the cells and how he will advance through the 53 cells in conjunction with the others. The work ends when all performers have played the 53rd cell. The composer tells us: “The quality of this music depends on the spontaneous interaction that will develop within the group of performers. A good performance reveals a world teeming with groups and sub-groups that continually form, separate and re-form in a modal texture that over a period of 45 to 90 minutes will go from C to E and from C to G.”

In C has been around for more than 1/2 my lifetime and is arguably the most performed piece of contemporary music in existence. I have had to live happily with its blessings and its curses even though its creation on a Spring night of 1964 took only a few hours to pen. The one page score was published on the original CBS Masterworks LP cover in 1968 so it immediately got into the public domain and performances started springing up everywhere from Russia to Japan to South Africa. I consider it a gift that The Universe kindly bestowed on the Terry Riley of 1964 who might possibly be a stranger if he showed up at my door today. There have been several diverse takes on this set of 53 patterns. Among which we can count the “Performance” by the Shanghai Film Orchestra, a 3 hour epic in Mexico City on multiple marimbas, The San Francisco Symphony extravaganza for which the audience was invited to bring along their own instruments, an all Electronic version at a recent Lincoln Center Festival, a take by a Recorder ensemble and one by Piano Circus and one of my favorites, a version called “Around D” played by 8-12 year olds. The psychedelic Innocence that gave birth to this music has long since dissolved into the cyberworlds that rule the double 00’s and yet it has somehow survived. It has not only survived but flourished as an anthem of triumph and liberté in this fantasia directed by Walter Boudreau with the Ensemble de la SMCQ and L’ensemble vocal de Montréal with Raôul Duguay. This is a brilliant conception, I only wish I had thought of it myself! I would like to think that this is all tapped into some basic truth… but… then… then… well… we’ll see.”

Terry Riley, Sri Moonshine Ranch, 29 VIII 2000