Unchained Melodies

Various Instrument Groupings

Unchained Melodies is a new modular chamber work with a contemporary twist that evokes the contrapuntal rigor of medieval music and the musical puzzles of J.S. Bach. The composition will be a collection of ten 10-minute solo pieces that can be combined in endless permutations with one another. In this way, the work is performable as a solo work for each instrument, or in combinations of any size and instrumentation ranging from duos  all the way up to full dectet (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, bass, piano).

Expanding upon the chamber version for core dectet, Unchained Melodies can also be performed with massed forces of an indeterminate number of musicians or as a concerto with orchestra in which solo musicians lead sections of instruments. The work’s extreme adaptability works especially well for educational programs and community engagement events that benefit from flexible instrumentation, and opens up myriad possibilities of side-by-side performances, educational activities, and large-scale, multi-venue performance initiatives.

A statement from composer Dan Visconti:

Such a project allows  me to truly stretch my craft and imagination as a composer. Already, I have identified several compositional strategies that could make this extremely complex project possible. First of all, Fifth House Ensemble uses iPads exclusively in performance, so there is a possibility of each player having a special digital part that “morphs” sections and symbols to have different implications depending on what other instruments are taking part in a performance. I have also engaged in recent and rigorous study of counterpoint while a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and I have developed novel strategies based around voice crossings and hocket that will allow the piece to have different perceived harmonic shades rather than sounding like something akin to simply different parts of a dectet piece. My goal is to create a new system of notation that will enable a satisfying and intellectually engaging musical performance in any form—an extension of the core principal of chamber music that all voices must contribute and that all are essential in shaping a musical dialogue.

Sample Lesson Plans

Arts Integrated – Science Classroom

In this lesson, we compare the individual voices in Unchained Melodies to life forms within their respective ecosystems. The addition a new species can drastically affect an ecosystem and its balance. Likewise, the impact of an individual on their environment can cause striking results, for better or worse. This lesson explores how the addition of certain species into new ecosystems or the impact of humans upon a variety of environments can cause harm. It will also explore ways in which students can actively take steps to prevent further damage to our Earth.

This lesson addresses the following core standards:


Arts Focused – Music Classroom

Musical Puzzles
This lesson engages the rich musical history that inspired Unchained Melodies, including the works Ma Fin Est Ma Commencement by Machaut, alongside Bach’s Art of Fugue and Puzzle Canons. Students explore games and riddles that composers have used as compositional techniques, and invent musical puzzles of their own! In a culminating activity, students compose short melodies or pieces and teach them to their peers without using traditional notation.

This lesson addresses the following core standards:

  • MU:Cr1.1.E.8a
  • MU:Cr2.1.E.8a
  • MU:Cr2.1.E.IIIa
  • MU:Cr3.1.E.IIIa
  • MU:Cr3.2.E.IIa

About Dan Visconti

Composer Dan Visconti’s music is rooted in the improvisational energy and maverick spirit of rock, folk music, and other vernacular performance traditions—elements that tend to collide in unexpected ways with Visconti’s classical training, resulting in a growing body of work the Plain Dealer describes as “both mature and youthful, bristling with exhilarating musical ideas and a powerfully crafted lyricism.”

For his ongoing initiatives to address social issues through music by reimagining the arts as a form of cultural and civic service, Visconti was awarded a 2014 TED Fellowship and delivered a TED talk at the conference’s thirtieth anniversary.

Commission credits include works written for the Kronos Quartet, Branford Marsalis, eighth blackbird, Opera Philadelphia, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Alarm Will Sound, Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, soprano Lucy Shelton, and many others. His music has been performed at venues including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Los Angeles’s Disney Hall, London’s Barbican Theatre, and Sydney Opera House. He has also held composer residencies including those with the California Symphony, Arkansas Symphony, and Metropolitan Opera.

Visconti’s music has been recognized with the Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, and awards from the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress, Fromm Foundation, Naumburg Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post and serves as Artistic Advisor at Astral Artists, where he works to develop the next generation of classical music leaders.