Clifton Callender

composition, music theory, mathematics

Of his fifty-one Studies for player piano, Nancarrow wrote only three canons based on large-scale continuous acceleration: Studies 21, 22, and 27. About these canons Kyle Gann writes, “[A]cceleration canon does not have the kind of clean structural implications Nancarrow found in the straight tempo canon … Perceptually fascinating, it did not lead to the kind of compositional richness he found elsewhere.”

The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of Nancarrow’s conception of accelerando, and the manner in which his approach to acceleration canons limited the structural elements which proved so useful in the straight tempo canons. Having identified the problems with this approach, I consider a generalized model of acceleration, borrowing from calculus. The latter portion of the paper considers examples which exploit the potentials of this more general approach.

Formalized Accelerando, Perspectives of New Music 39.1, 2001.