Music by

PROGRAM NOTES by the composer
The Three Little Pigs  for Narrator, Violin, and Cello

THE THREE LITTLE PIGS was commissioned through the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum for the ensemble Auricolae to perform through Strings For Schools during the 2004-05 season.


THE THREE LITTLE PIGS may be used as in-class demonstration of the many sounds produced by string instruments, how music supports and enhances the mood of a familiar story, how individual themes can be linked to certain characters, and as a demonstration of themes recurring with some differences as the story develops.

When introducing more advanced listeners to THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, it may be interesting to observe the long-short-short-long rhythm generating the fanfare in bar 1 and gruff contrast in bar 12, as "rhythmic DNA" through the whole piece. This pattern is the natural rhythmic flow of the narrated words "huff and I'll puff" as well as the opening rhythm of the German folk song "I will build a house" (familiar from Brahms' Academic Festival Overture) introduced as the Third Pig's sturdy leitmotif at bar 81, and also as the opening rhythm of Beethoven's Consecration of the House overture which is introduced briefly at 94 and more prominently at 215. This illustrates how the long-short-short-long pattern appears in many unrelated themes and narrations, "secretly" unifying the music's feel.


The countless metaphors comparing music to architecture are often as true as they are over-familiar. However, one vivid story stands out in my mind. While a professor at University of Pennsylvania, George Rochberg was confronted by a concertgoer who frequented  premieres by Rochberg's composition students at Penn. "Dr. Rochberg," she proclaimed, "if your students were engineers, I would not dare drive over their bridges!" When Rochberg told me this story, the basic meaning was clear - I'm sure any concertgoer would feel comfortable driving a heavy truck across symphonies engineered by Beethoven and Brahms. But ultimately this analogy can raise a lot of deep questions: Do bridges make good art or just good structure? Are mono-motivic works analogous to brick walls, and what does that really mean? Should one drive over Debussy's bridges? What did this listener miss in the student compositions that signaled a lack of self-supporting structure?<

25 years later, creating THE THREE LITTLE PIGS led me back to George's story. After all, two of the pigs built houses that couldn't stand, while the wise and careful third pig built a house that was indestructible. What should that mean about their music?

Of course this is music for elementary school concerts, and the children will hear motives, textures, and moods identified with each character, and they need entertainment, not German philosophy. Older listeners may recognize Beethoven's overture to The Consecration of the House and Brahms' setting of the song "I Will Build A House" integrated into the structure.

In my re-telling of the familiar story, the First Little Pig builds his house of twigs as quickly as possible because he only thinks about playing in the mud and wants to get back to it. The Second Little Pig builds his house of straw as quickly as possible because he's eager to get back to snoozing. This amplifies the contrast with the Third Little Pig who plans ahead and builds Structure. To add more drive to the story, on the day the Wolf comes by, the Pigs are planning to meet at the Third Little Pig's home for a pot luck dinner. The Third Pig has a vat of boiling water on the fireplace waiting for whatever surprise the other Pigs bring for dinner - which turns out to be the Wolf.



last updated February 22, 2020