The text for this work is an excerpt from Ada Lovelace’s notes on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the first general purpose computer, designed in the nineteenth century but never built. Ada Lovelace is often called the first programmer, due to the example instructions included in her notes, which were published in 1843. While people debate whether she actually designed programs rather than merely documenting and explaining clearly the nature of the analytical engine, she was certainly a visionary in terms of the capability of the engine. This quote predicts algorithmic composition of music.
While the quote is about using computers to generate music, the setting here is not really algorithmic. The premise of the work is the hypothetical situation in which the first eight harmonics (comprising the notes A, C#, E and a slightly flat G) are discovered before melody. The first section builds the chord based on the harmonics on A. This section concludes with some modulations based on the fifth above the fundamental (the third harmonic), and finally collapsing the harmonics into a smaller range in what sounds like a perfect cadence involving a dominant seventh chord taking the music back to the original key of A.
The second section commences with the notes of the dominant seventh, then, as these notes are rather limited for the creation of melodies, the harmonics of the dominant are added to the scale and to the musical texture. This creates a scale consisting of A, B, C#, a slightly flat D, E, a slightly flat G, G#, A.
The third section attempts to create a melody over a chord sequence made of the major and minor triads available in the key created by the harmonics as described.
The fourth section takes its inspiration from the sound of the working models of Babbage’s Difference Engine, while the bass walks through a scale-like melody. This is immediately followed by a fugue-like fragment, leading to the reprise of the initial theme.
(An approximate rendition of The Analytical Engine, composed by Alexandra L. Uitdenbogerd can be heard on soundcloud. Sheet music is available from the composer.)