About the Piece

Instrumentation: String Orchestra, 3 Per, Computer Music on CD
Duration: 14min

Program Note

Einstein’s Dream was commissioned by Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra with funds made possible by the Norma and Don Stone New Music Fund. Lasting 14 minutes, the work was premièred on March 31, 2005 at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.  McTee’s score calls for string orchestra, percussion, and computer-processed sounds recorded on CD. The percussion parts are performed by three players: I – medium and large suspended cymbals, flexatone, glockenspiel, small and medium triangles, and castanets; II – medium and large  suspended cymbals, flexatone, tubular bells, bell tree, and maracas; III – bass drum, tam tam, mark tree, ratchet, and gong.

Composed to celebrate the World Year of Physics (2005) with Einstein in the 21st Century as its theme, Einstein’s Dream consists of seven continuous sections as follows:

1. Warps and Curves in the Fabric of Space and Time

I require the clear constructions of Bach.
– Albert Einstein

I’ve always enjoyed blending the past with the present – the old with the new – for example, placing antique and contemporary furniture side by side, or in the case of Einstein’s Dream, quoting Bach in the context of newly composed music. To pick up on Einstein’s dream of unification and to wrap that dream around present world conflicts, I have borrowed from a Bach chorale entitled, Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott (We all believe in one God), transposed to the key of “e” for Einstein. The “relativity” of past and current musical idioms is intended to uncover new temporal relationships and engage multiple levels of memory in an environment of contrapuntal pluralism.

2. Music of the Spheres

Music of the Spheres refers to music thought by Pythagoras and later classical and medieval philosophers to be produced by the movements of celestial bodies. The “harmonious” intervals of the octave, perfect 5th, and perfect 4th (E – B – E, for example) represented a kind of cosmic harmony and unity of all that exists. In my Music of the Spheres the upper strings intone the previously heard Bach melody, this time harmonized only by a sustained octave in the celli and basses.

3. Chasing After Quanta

The more one chases after quanta, the better they hide themselves.
– Albert Einstein

In composing this section, I relied on a computer music technique known as granular synthesis, the process of creating new sounds from tiny fragments of existing sounds called grains. Representing clouds of “acoustical quanta,” the granular sounds in this section accompany a 12-tone, canonic (chasing), orchestral texture whose melodies are based on the notes of Bach’s name.

4. Pondering the Behavior of Light

If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.
– Albert Einstein

In speaking about his renowned theories, Einstein made it quite clear that music was the driving force behind his intuition, and although recreational, violin playing also “stimulated intellectual growth” and sustained “the order and harmony that were the hallmarks of [his] science” – WonderWare, Inc.

In the music of this section, huge, luscious triads are overtaken by tight, shimmering, octatonic clusters while the bass line falls in major and minor thirds to complete a 12-tone row. An extended violin solo based on the trumpet theme from Ives’ Unanswered Question is punctuated with computer music gestures reminiscent of earlier moments in the piece.

5. The Frantic Dance of Subatomic Particles

Scurrying string melodies based on the Bach chorale tune are set against a palette of computer music sonorities derived from a recording of DSO Artistic Administrator, Victor Marshall, reading, “I require the clear constructions of Bach.” Using granular synthesis software, the words are broken up into a myriad particles and rearranged to create a texture in which the words cannot be understood, just as the contours of an object cannot be seen on a molecular level. Additional computer sounds are constructed from the sounds of clocks winding up, ticking, and breaking apart, accompanied by similar sounds from the percussion section of the orchestra.

6. Celestial Bells

Using the same source recording employed in the previous section, the sounds of speech are transformed into bell sounds both through granular synthesis and by rebalancing and redistributing the sounds’ frequencies. The orchestra plays clusters of notes to match the detuned qualities of the bells, eventually imploding into a single note, E.

7. Wondering at the Secrets

To me, it is enough to wonder at the secrets.
– Albert Einstein

One of the most striking applications of granular synthesis is its ability to stretch sound in time without necessarily changing its pitch. In composing Einstein’s Dream, and in thinking about new temporal experiences, I became very interested in the perceptual effect of time-stretching and decided to apply it to the same Bach chorale tune used throughout the work. Time-stretching is perhaps loosely analogous to the way in which Einstein’s equations of relativity predict that gravity, or the curvature of space-time by matter, not only stretches or shrinks distances, but also appears to slow down or dilate the flow of time. Concepts of before and after merge. What most intrigued me about musical time-stretching was its ability to shift the listener’s attention toward the inner components of the sound – the harmonics and the overlapping resonant regions – as if inviting a kind of meditation to wonder at the secrets.

  • from Cindy McTee’s website

From the Composer

As we know, Albert Einstein gave much thought to issues of space and time, and he dreamt of finding a theory of everything, or a broad, mathematical structure that would fully explain and link together all known phenomena.  My piece celebrates this dream and the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s miraculous year (1905) in which he published four papers that contributed substantially to the foundation of modern physics.

There is geometry in the humming of the strings.
There is music in the spacing of the spheres.
– Pythagoras

Ancient Greek scientists, who measured harmonies on a lyre string, and many other scientists since then have fallen in love with music. This love, however, is not always rewarded with perfect mastery. Einstein, a devoted amateur violinist, provoked a more competent player to shout at him, “Einstein, can’t you count”?

I dream of instruments obedient to my thought and which with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspected sounds, will lend themselves to the exigencies of my inner rhythm.
– Edgard Varèse

When Edgard Varèse spoke these words in 1937, he had no idea that about 50 years later, his dream would become reality through the dissemination of affordable personal computers and associated electronic devices. Computer hardware and software seeks to expand compositional and performance resources beyond those available using traditional instruments and voices, offering the composer the ability, not merely to compose with sounds, but to compose the sounds themselves. Computers also allow us to change traditional concepts of musical time – to effectively “stop” sound – to capture, store, modify, and to play back sound events. I am particularly fascinated by the interplay between the kind of time embodied by pre-recorded computer music (fixed and machine-like) and the kind of time represented by live performance (approximate and human.)

Attracted to the immediacy, risk, and excitement of live performance, I also enjoy the distance, safety, and control of pre-recorded computer music. I think the great tradition and refinement of orchestral music beautifully complements the futuristic, “rough edges” of electronic music. I was very much aware of boundaries crossed when, in composing Einstein’s Dream, the computer music grew out of the orchestral music and visa versa, the two mediums modulating and merging with one another to represent multiple meanings and multiple temporalities.

Of the myriad aesthetic and technical approaches available to composers of computer music, I chose to limit myself to just a few while composing this work. I began by recording the sounds of familiar metal objects and metallic percussion instruments such as stainless steel bowls, chimes, and suspended cymbals. I also obtained a recording of DSO Artistic Administrator, Victor Marshall, reading passages from the writings of Albert Einstein. Then, using audio processing software, I modified those sounds sometimes beyond recognition; I listened to them, tried to learn from them, and thought about how they and the sounds of the orchestra could be stitched into the same musical fabric. At times, I completely merged the orchestral and computer music sounds, inserting them into the other’s acoustical environment to create a single, unified sonority and a new kind of listening experience (to borrow an idea from Paul A. Griffiths) at the threshold between visible and invisible sound. Most music performed in the classical western tradition is meant to be seen. Music played through loudspeakers, however, is meant to be unseen, causing a confusion of identities when the sound is ambiguous. In Einstein’s Dream, these two kinds of music collide, and a new sense of space-time emerges as we hear the seen (the familiar) fold into the unseen (the unfamiliar.)

I first began working with personal computers in the late 1980’s. At that time, I used the earliest Macintosh computers and some Yamaha tone modules to compose two electronic pieces that had a huge impact on the ways in which I subsequently approached writing for traditional instruments: my hearing was sharpened; I became much more attentive to nuances of attack, sustain, and decay; I was able to imagine new textures and timbres; and I could also hear more details of pitch and rhythm, as if looking at sound and time through a microscope.

Subsequent to those two electronic pieces, I wrote what has become my most performed orchestral work, Circuits. I continued to write acoustic pieces but with the intention of returning to the computer music medium when the opportunity presented itself. In 2003, I received a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters which allowed me to buy the necessary hardware and software, and shortly thereafter, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra asked me to write a new piece. I proposed Einstein’s Dream, the DSO welcomed the idea, and I began work in May of 2004, finishing the piece about seven months later.

After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form.
– Albert Einstein

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, we Americans have embraced science and technology as a major part of our national identity. I am intrigued by the discoveries of science and especially by the ways in which the arts and sciences intersect: both fields investigate the unknown, propose theories, experiment with possibilities, attempt to resolve paradoxes, and generally help us to better understand ourselves and the universe in which we live. It is interesting to note that Einstein’s search for a grand theory of unification took him into a world where intuition prevailed – to a place where science and art merged.

Personally, I have the greatest degree of pleasure in having contact with works of art. They furnish me with happy feelings of an intensity such as I cannot derive from other realms.
– Albert Einstein

Einstein believed that the greatest scientists are always artists as well. He also said that both music and scientific research are nourished by the same source of longing. It seems to me, too, that the longing behind a composer’s search for meaning is the same longing that inspires the scientist confronted with the inescapable mystery of the physical universe.

Conductor’s Perspective

This is a rather challenging piece, but would work beautifully if there are a good concertmaster for the solo, and three good percussionists.

About the Composer

Hailed by the Houston Chronicle as a composer whose music reflects a charging, churning celebration of the musical and cultural energy of modern-day America, Cindy McTee (b. 1953 in Tacoma, WA) brings to the world of concert music a fresh and imaginative voice.

The Washington Post likewise characterized her work as unmistakably American-sounding, composed with craftsmanship and a catholic array of influences across several centuriesThere’s also a polished gleam about her colors, according to the Detroit Free Press, as well as an inventive approach to form and a respect for tradition.

Cindy McTee has received numerous awards for her music, most significantly: a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Composers Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Music Alive Award from Meet The Composer and the League of American Orchestras, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s third annual Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award, and a BMI Student Composers Award. She was also winner of the 2001 Louisville Orchestra Composition Competition.

The works of Cindy McTee have received performances by leading ensembles in important venues throughout the world, including Carnegie Hall on five separate occasions. Among the many ensembles to have performed her music are: the Aspen Festival Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of St. Louis, the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Eastman Wind Ensemble, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, the Lone Star Wind Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Maryland Symphony, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, the New World Symphony, the North Texas and Dallas Wind Symphonies, the Orchestre National de Lyon, the Orquestra Simfonica Illes Balears, the Pacific Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the President’s Own U.S. Marine Band, the Showa Wind Symphony, Tokyo’s NHK Symphony Orchestra, the United States Army Field Band, Voices of Change, the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, and the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Bern, Billings, Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Flagstaff, Ft. Worth, Hartford, Hawaii, Houston, Indianapolis, Nashville, Novosibirsk, Omaha, Pittsburgh, Puerto Rico, Rochester, San Antonio, Seattle, Shanghai, St. Louis, and Sydney.

Cindy McTee enjoyed a 30-year teaching career alongside her activities as a composer – 3 years at Pacific Lutheran University and 27 years at the University of North Texas where she retired as Regents Professor Emerita in 2011. Later that year, she married conductor, Leonard Slatkin. Their principal place of residence is in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Cindy McTee’s website

Performance Materials

Perusal Score (open in new tab)

Purchase/Rent Performance Materials through Bill Holab Music

Duration: 14 min

Instrumentation: Strings, 3 Perc, Computer Music on a CD

Perusal Scores

Score Sample of the beginning

Score Sample of “chasing after quanta”

Score Sample of “wondering at the secrets”

Recordings taken from the composer’s site


Audio recording of the beginning

Audio recording of “chasing after quanta”

Audio recording of “wondering at the secrets”

Recordings taken from the composer’s site