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Extreme Heterophony: a study in Javanese Gamelan for one or more pianists

ByJohn Pitts

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For inquisitive pianists—either solo or in duets/duos/triet or multiple piano ensembles—to discover, step into, and explore music for gamelan orchestra from the Indonesian island of Java—what it is, how it works, and how to begin to play it. Karawitan is the classical music of Central Java. Gamelan ensembles consist of between c.5 and c.20 musicians on a range of tuned metal percussion and gongs, xylophone, plucked zithers, bowed string lute, bamboo flute, singers and drums. Almost every aspect of this intriguing concert music—its richly heterophonic texture, end-weighted metre, colotomic structures, part-learned/part-improvised layers, approach to tempo, array of rich instrumental sounds, tunings, scales, and aural tradition—is conceptually a world away from notated western classical music. This book is a deep dive into a single well-known composition in the Central Javanese repertoire—Ketawang Puspawarna—composed by Prince Mangkunegara IV of Surakarta in the 1800s. Its layers have been systematically taken apart and transformed into several individual stand-alone (or perform-together) piano pieces. This has both an educational and artistic purpose. Each piano ‘piece’ demonstrates one or more layers from within the gamelan ensemble, and how the core theme (the 'skeleton melody') may be fleshed out by each player. They give interested pianists a performer’s insight into how this music is built, by being able to explore some of the intricacies of the musical construction of each instrument’s line, as far as it is possible on a piano—along with the backing track (a free mp3 download from As gamelan music is fundamentally music for ensemble, each piano adaptation is designed to be played both on its own and also in any combination with any of the others—with multiple possible duet combinations (and a triet) at one piano, or duos or multiple-duets at two (or up to seven) pianos. Learning to perform Javanese gamelan music requires an approach and mindset entirely distinct from the European classical canon. This book takes its own approach too, designed for its specific audience of pianists. It seeks to provide pianists with an accessible window into this extraordinary music, using appropriately comprehensible western terminology and staff notation. It goes into just enough detail to get a feel for how the music works—how the notes are chosen—and enough to begin to explore it practically on a piano.


Publication Date
Nov 30, 2021
All Rights Reserved - Standard Copyright License
By (author): John Pitts


Interior Color
Black & White
A4 (8.27 x 11.69 in / 210 x 297 mm)

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