Music by Kirk O'Riordan

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Recordings of Kirk's music have been released by Parma Recordings, Centaur Records, and others. View Kirk's discography here.


Music for Small Chamber Ensembles

Distant Light for Alto Saxophone, Percussion, and Fixed Media (2013) 11’

Score Sample
Audio: (Coming Soon)

Distant Light was composed in December 2013. It was composed during at a time when I was experimenting with electronic resources, and this piece represents an attempt to explore acoustic timbres in a more "electronic" way. Despite that, the electronic component of this piece is optional, and in no way necessary for performance. The work is very free and in some ways improvisatory, allowing the two musicians to react to the sounds each makes.

A Strange Flower for Birds and Butterflies (2012) 16’

Score Sample

Premiere: February 5, 2013, Marianne Gythfeldt, clarinet; Lawrence Stomberg, cello; Holly Roadfeldt, piano. Williams Center for the Arts, Lafayette College

a strange flower
for birds and butterflies
the autumn sky

~Matuso Basho

A Strange Flower for Birds and Butterflies was commissioned by Marianne Gythfeldt, Lawrence Stomberg, and Holly Roadfeldt. The trio gave the world premiere on February 5, 2013 at the Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College.

It is both a privilege and a challenge to compose for musicians who can play anything. Having worked with all three musicians fairly extensively, I knew that each is an experienced and gifted chamber musician. I wanted, then, to give them a piece that would feature that aspect of their playing by writing what amounts to a giant cadenza. The piece is not (traditionally) metered, though there are some very rhythmic passages, and the musicians often react to beginnings and endings of another’s phrases.

The title is not a direct representation of the piece--the sounds themselves are not what I would consider to be strange. It is, though, for a variety of reasons, an unusual piece in my catalog. I found the haiku while researching Basho’s work for a song cycle I composed which set fifteen of Basho’s haiku.

This work is, in fact, structured in the 5-7-5 syllabic form of a haiku. The outer, 5-syllable, sections are lyrical and revolve around the opening gesture. The middle section is more rhythmically active; its seven sub-sections are presented in a loose arch form.

A Strange Flower for Birds and Butterflies for clarinet, cello and piano takes its inspiration from poetry also; in this case a haiku by Matuso Basho. Each of the three instruments acts in dialogue with each other in a fascinating way. There is a sense of the cello and clarinet responding to the somewhat ‘strange’ counterpart provided by the piano. This is a work that feels “eastern”; almost improvisatory. It is atmospheric and beautiful.” —Audiophile Audition

This piece is recorded on the Strange Flowers CD. More information on the recordings page.

Leonardo’s Sketchbook for Flute and Alto Saxophone (2011) 14’
Commissioned by AVIDduo

Score Sample

Premiere: July 19, 2012, AVIDduo: Brittany Primavera, flute; Jeffery Kyle Hutchins, saxophone. Ostrava, Czech Republic

Leonardo’s Sketchbook was commissioned by the Phi Tau Chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon at the University of North Texas for AVIDduo: Brittany Primavera, flute; Jeffery Kyle Hutchins, saxophone.

Leonardo's Sketchbook plays on the idea of an inventor writing down ideas for inventions in a notebook. The "inventions" are similar to Bach's Inventions...two part works that are highly imitative and employ on occasion some fancy contrapuntal tricks, like mirror canons, etc. Like some of the inventor's ideas, some are more developed than others...some elaborate, some very simple. They are performed without pause.

Ulysses for Violin and Piano (2011) 16’

Score Sample

Audio: (Coming Soon)

Novelist James Joyce became famous for using a writing technique called “stream of consciousness,” in which he attempted to replicate the intricate connections and references of the human mind. His Novel Ulysses is arguably the crowning achievement of this style.

My piece attempts to incorporate the stream of consciousness ideal by allowing a theme to do develop in a manner similar to the thoughts of Joyce’s characters. Unlike a Haydn-esque varation set, my seven short movements allow the theme to wander in a variety of different directions and explore different personalities. The movements are for the most part performed without pause.

String Quartet (2010) 18’

Score Samples

I. Prelude
II. Canon
III. Introduction and Dance

Audio: (Coming Soon)

This piece was my first attempt at composing in a classical, freely atonal style (a la early Schoenberg). The sets employed in each movement are deployed horizontally and vertically, resulting in regions of the piece being fully saturated in the pitch set…variety is derived from transposition and orchestration. Over the course of the piece, the pitch sets expand outward.

Sonata rapsodica for Clarinet and Piano (2009) 14’
For Trevor O’Riordan

Score Samples

I. freely; quietly agitated
II. flowing; spirited and energetic

Premiere: September 28, 2012. Marianne Gythfeldt, clarinet; Holly Roadfeldt, piano. Williams Center for the Arts, Lafayette College

Sonata rapsodica was composed for my cousin, clarinetist Trevor O’Riordan. It was premiered by clarinetist Marianne Gythfeldt and pianist Holly Roadfeldt on February 5 2012, at the Williams Center for the Arts on the Campus of Lafayette College. Gythfeldt and Roadfeldt recorded the work for the CD Strange Flowers (Ravello Records).

I composed Sonata rapsodica in the summer and early fall of 2009. I enjoyed working on this piece for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that, to me anyway, the music (especially in the second movement) is youthful and energetic. It is a rhapsody in a pure sense...where elation of spirit becomes blinding.

From a technical standpoint, the two movements deal with the concept of meter very differently. The opening movement is very free, almost like a cadenza...metrical pulses will feel almost non-existent. The second movement is much more rhythmic, and while the groupings change frequently, pulses are much more readily apparent.

”His Sonata rapsodica for clarinet and piano is a perfect example. The two movements have very different qualities. The opening, “freely, quietly agitated” is flowing and meditative for the most part; very romantic throughout. The second movement, “flowing, spirited and energetic” is indeed bouncy and propulsive, quite upbeat until the music provides a sudden harmonic and dynamic jolt that leads back to a tranquil, coda-like passage that echoes the mood of the first movement. Clarinetist Marianne Gythfeldt plays very well, as does Holly Roadfeldt, pianist. This is a really impressive work that I am personally anxious to explore further.” —Audiophile Audition

This piece is recorded on the Strange Flowers CD. More information on the recordings page.

Moments, once remembered for Sopranino Saxophone and Guitar (2009) 16’
Commissioned by Farrell Vernon

Score Samples

I. Toccata
II. Ostinato
III. Canon
IV. Barcarolle
V. Recitative and Dance


Moments, once remembered was commissioned by Farrell Vernon. It was premiered by Farrell and guitarist Laura Lydy at the 2012 World Saxophone Congress in St. Andrews, Scotland. The duo recorded the piece for Farrell’s CD on Centaur Records: High Notes: More New Music for Sopranino Saxophone (CRC 3142).

The work is a collection of five short dances in a variety of “older” styles: essentially Inventions in the manner of J.S. Bach. Unlike Bach, however, the pitch material in the work is very strictly controlled. Movements are restricted to four or five pitches, and each successive movement uses one pitch from the previous movement and three or four new pitches. The full chromatic set is completed by the third movement; movements IV and V use hexachordal combinations.

These small pitch collections, though, are not treated serially. Rather, they are subjected to a variety of motivic and textural techniques. The title, while evocative in its own right, is to me something of a commentary on compositional styles and techniques which are all but abandoned in modern practice. My goal, then, was to challenge myself to create motive-based conventionally formed pieces which incorporated some of these advanced pitch organization principles.

Moments, Once Remembered by Kirk O’Riordan is a piece in five movements (Toccata, Ostinato, Canon, Barcarolle, Recitative and Dance) for sopranino and classical guitar. The writing, as well as the instrumentation, demands the utmost control of both instruments and require the sopranino to adapt to a musical situation with extreme attention to balance and blend of the instruments. Both performers negotiate these challenges very successfully and provide a poised, as well as pensive interpretation of this piece." --Frank Bongiorno, The Saxophone Journal

This piece is recorded on Farrell Vernon's High Notes CD. More information on the recordings page.

Quarry Songs for Flute, Cello, and Piano (2008, rev. 2010) 14’

Score Sample

Premiere: April 23, 2010. Susan Charlton, flute; Betty Tang, cello; Alexis Fisher, piano. Williams Center for the Arts, Lafayette College

The title “Quarry Songs” is a reference to a scene in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, in which the main character, Howard Roark, chooses to work in a quarry on his own terms rather than working as an architect on someone else’s terms. My piece is not an imagining of what music might have been going on in Roark’s head; rather, it was composed during my own metaphorical quarry experience, and it became a tether to that which is important to me as an artist.

Pressing forward, pushing back for Flute and Piano (2007) 14’

Commissioned by Reuben Councill and Holly Roadfeldt-O'Riordan

Score Sample

Pressing forward, pushing back, written in 2006, is a substantial new work by Kirk O’Riordan that would best be described as a single-movement sonata. It takes the listener through several stages and moods: it is at times frenetic, angry, sad, lyrical; gut it ends with what I feel is a beautifully hopeful statement. Rather than melodic phrasing, I like to describe this piece as being organized with “phrasing by sonic event.”

A few words from the composer may set the tone:
“Often new ideas are resisted simply because they are new. There is no rational explanation for this: the ideas cannot be opposed with logic or reason, but they are still opposed…and so forces align for or against until the good new ideas are either victorious or forced to submit.”
--Notes by Reuben Councill

Pressing Forward, Pushing Back is a work for flute and piano that sounds almost exactly like what the title implies. The flute part, performed here terrifically by Reuben Councill, is frenetic, filled with energy and constantly edging forward rhythmically and through the range of the instrument. The piano seems to “push back” with punctuated chords that try to halt the flute and interrupt the propulsion. A slow section shifts the mood while creating more of a dialogue between the instruments. The ‘push and pull’ aspect of the conversation leads eventually to a rather restful, ebbing conclusion that the composer calls a “beautifully hopeful statement.” —Audiophile Audition

This piece is recorded on the Strange Flowers CD. More information on the recordings page.

Cadenza for Piano Trio (2007) 9’
Commissioned by the Eaken Piano Trio

Score Sample

The Cadenza is the third movement of my Concerto for Piano Trio and Orchestra. Follow the link for more information.
The Cadenza is available for chamber performances. Please contact me if you are interested.

Dying Light for Cello and Piano (2004) 15’
Commissioned by Andrew Rammon and Holly Roadfledt-O'Riordan

Score Sample

The title of this piece is taken from Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go Gentle into That Good Night” (1937). This well-known villanelle implores the poet’s father to fight against impending death. Ultimately, of course, the struggle is futile; however, we are still compelled to rage against the dying of the light. My piece has less to do with death than it does with the struggle. The piece explores the guilt, the frustration, and the acceptance of a futile struggle (a struggle that is not necessarily that of coming to terms with impending death). The musical gestures that represent these feelings are all derived from the opening chord.

The work was composed for pianist Holly O’Riordan and cellist Andrew Rammon and premiered by them.

Dying Light takes its emotional cue from Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into the Night.” As such, this music for cello and piano begins in a somber fashion with the tolling of bell-like chords that give way to a soft, mournful melody for cello. The mood is sustained and sad but beautiful while the initial chords repeat under some filigree in the upper piano, echoed by the cello. The music gets a bit agitated and moves forward briefly only to ebb back into a kind of submission. This is another beautiful work that leaves an emotional impact. Cellist Lawrence Stomberg and pianist Holly Roadfeldt play wonderfully and with the proper emotion throughout.” —Audiophile Audition

Dying Light is also available for Alto Saxophone and Piano.

This piece is recorded on the Strange Flowers CD. More information on the recordings page.

I’ve Chased The Shouting Wind for Flute, Clarinet, and Piano (2003, rev. 2009) 6’

Score Sample
Audio: (Coming Soon)

The piece takes its tile from a line from John Gillespie Magee’s famous poem, “High Flight.”

The piece is in a ternary form: the opening section begins with a pulsing eighth-note theme which alternates between the winds and the piano. The theme is then taken by the piano with the winds adding soaring counter-melodies. The theme returns later in the section in a minor key, with more dissonant harmonies.

A slow colorful middle section which features the winds acting as resonance for the piano follows. The cadenza-like section is based on fragments of chords introduced in the beginning section. After a slightly abbreviated restatement of the opening section, a short coda brings the work to a climax.

Ostinati for Soprano Saxophone, Violin, and Piano (2001, rev. 2007) 10’

Score Sample (saxophone version)

Ostinati was originally commissioned by violinist Melanie Gran and saxophonist Michael Hanson. The revision was made for Farrell Vernon.

The melodic material of the piece is derived from an ostinato that is gradually introduced in the course of the piece. There are three sections in the piece: the first two sections are essentially variations on the ostinato, but because they are heard before the theme, they have the effect of implicating the original, rather than varying from it. The first section begins with three pitches, which are spread out over several measures: these form the primary motive of the ostinato. The middle section is comprised of cadenzas for each instrument. The final section is a fast dance that presents the ostinato in its pure form. The piece ends with a restatement of the opening material.

The revision of this piece was much more extensive than I had anticipated. Much of the original was cut, and much of the remaining material was reordered, developed, re-orchestrated, and otherwise rewritten. The fast section was almost entirely recomposed. The resulting form is more closely related to a theme and variations than the ternary structure of the original, which I think better serves the title. The piece now is a series of ostinati, related to each other by melodic fragments, colors, and gestures; treating the fundamental ideas of the ostinato slightly differently with each iteration.

Ostinati is also available for Oboe, Violin, and Piano

Canticles for Saxophone Quartet (1996) 11’
Commissioned by the Colorado State Music Teachers Association

Score Sample


Canticles for Saxophone Quartet was commissioned by the Colorado State Music Teachers Association. It is in ABA form, and loosely modeled on the first movement of Gorecki's Third Symphony.

Longings for Clarinet and Soprano Saxophone (off-stage) (1996) 8’
Commissioned by Michael Mattner

Score Sample: (Coming Soon)

Audio: (Coming Soon)

Longings for Clarinet and Soprano Saxophone was written in 1996 for clarinetist Michael Mattner. It is for solo clarinet with off-stage soprano saxophone: the saxophone represents a calling from a separated love: always there, yet never there, despite whatever goes on in life.

Cathedral for Alto Saxophone and Organ (1994) 6’

Score Sample

Cathedral was composed in approximately four hours one evening the week before Christmas for a performance in my hometown church the following Sunday. As I reflect back on the piece, I can recognize in hindsight the origins of ideas that have guided my recent work; among these are clarity of form, dramatic contour, and the celebration of sustained sound on its own terms. The minimalist language used in this piece I think matches these aesthetics, but from the perspective of a composer who is just beginning to control his skills. For me, the work server as a landmark from my beginnings as a composer, allowing me the luxury of perspective on my development.

Many of the decisions made in the piece were a direct result of practicality: I had about six minutes to play during the offertory; the language needed to be fairly conservative, and I specifically wanted to feature the saxophone's altissimo register. I finally settled on the title after considering the performance venue, its use of vertical space both in terms of pitch and echo in terms of the hall for which it was composed, and the reverent mood of the music.

This piece is recorded on Frederick L. Hemke's Simple Gifts CD. More information on the recordings page.