Automotive Passacaglia for orchestra (2001/revised 2004)
2222/4331/3 perc/pno/hp/strings

Duration c. 15 minutes Commissioned and premiered by Oakland East Bay Symphony, February 23, 2001, Paramount Theater, Oakland, California, Michael Morgan – conductor. Subsequent performances by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Michael Morgan – conductor; Orquestra Sinfonica de Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico, Sergio Espinosa – conductor.
Perusal recording available upon request

Information on rental or purchase of performance materials available upon request.

Program Notes

The orchestral version of Automotive Passacaglia is based on an earlier work of mine composed for piano and percussion.  Despite it’s initial scoring, I had always felt that the original had the scope and potential for an orchestral version – something I was finally able to realize upon receiving a commission from Michael Morgan and the Oakland East Bay Symphony.

The title of Automotive Passacaglia was actually lifted from a Henry Miller essay of the same name, which contained the following wonderful quote:

“It was the first time I’d ever seen what makes a car go.  It was rather beautiful, in a mechanical way.  Reminded me of a steam calliope playing Chopin in a tub of grease.”

Outside of providing me with a convenient title, the music has little to do with the essay.  The title itself, however, is relevant in two regards.  First, it is a passacaglia, i.e. a variation form in which a passacaglia “theme” is repeated in one form or another throughout the work’s entirety.  I envisioned Automotive Passacaglia ‘s 12-note theme as a vehicle which transports the listener through diverse musical terrain, first taking shape in the middle register (muted piano and percussion) before gradually branching out and gaining momentum during its course.

Second, the title does refer to a rather stubborn obsession with rhythmic propulsion (or “motor rhythm”) which occurs in almost all of my music.  In this case the rhythmic excitement takes place against the backdrop of an underlying metric pattern which operates throughout: each phrase of the passacaglia theme consists of 13 beats organized into patterns of 4+3+6, a rather instinctive choice made with regard to how I felt the piece should “breathe” (4=exhalation, 3=inhalation/tension, 6=exhalation/repose).

Returning to an earlier work can be a tricky thing: you can’t ignore the range of influences you’ve encountered since composing the original, yet at the same time changing it too much would be analogous to altering a previous diary entry.  I’ve tried to incorporate the general feel of the original not only by capturing its hard, brittle drive orchestrally, but also by using the piano and percussion instruments themselves as important reference points: the orchestral textures emerging outward from the piano and percussion in the beginning and dissolving back into them at the end.

Automotive Passacaglia was composed under the auspices of the James Irvine Foundation, and was funded in part by the Composer Assistance Program of the American Music Center.


“The premiere of Michael Fiday’s “Automotive Passacaglia” with the Oakland East Bay Symphony was exceptional.” – San Francisco Classical Voice