The term centone (chen-tóh-neh) originally referred to an article of clothing made up of small pieces of cloth sewn together, something like a quilt. In fact, its literal meaning is "patchwork." It later came to be applied to works of prose or verse which were created by combining lines and/or phrases from existing literary works by other authors. More recently, it has been applied to liturgical chants which were constructed by combining small melodic cells to create full-blown melodies.

In Centone, the patchwork idea applies both to text and music. The text, a psalm in itself, was formed by combining various verses from other psalms. The pitch materials, based largely on the chorale tune Aus tiefer Not schrei' ich zu dir, were derived by fragmenting the melody into phrases, motives, and cells. Finally, the structure of Centone is a patchwork of six short movements in one continuous work. The text appears below.

This being my first orchestral composition, I chose to incorporate the voice, an instrument with which I am very familiar. The work also betrays the fact that I had been performing, conducting, and lecturing on the cantatas of J. S. Bach at the time. Here, the sequence of individual movements (prelude, aria, recitative, interlude/arioso, aria, postlude) is highly distilled, rendering a cantata in miniature.

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