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Hi all!

I've recently been exploring composing with altered scales. This particular choral work is based on an eight-note symmetrical scale. The text is by a 19th century Icelandic poet, Jónas Hallgrímsson, from a poem called Strit, which means "toil." It highlights the futility of all that we labor for here on earth.

The harmonies are constructed largely from 4ths and the work is technically atonal, although some tonal centers are visited throughout. I'm curious to know how others perceive the tonality in this piece. Please let me know what works and doesn't work for you. I especially would like advice about the enharmonics, since I'm not used to writing without a key signature.

(I had to do all the voices myself, so I apologize for the grainyness and thick-sounding recording.)

I've attached the score for your reference. Thanks in advance for your input!

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Cool piece.

You say it's based on fourths, but that's not in the jazz sense: it lot of your fourths are augmented. That actually gives you the so-called "Scriabin chord", for instance in the first measure.

Your harmonies are very static. That's not good or bad, it just means that the piece sounds a little static. Which again is just the way it is. I enjoyed it.

Just one remark on the score: every once in a while you have three voices in the SA line. I think you need to indicate explicitly whether you have S & A1 / A2 or S1 / S2 and A. Choirs often have explicit role designations for 1st/2nd soprano/alto, so that will help them.

Hi Victor!

Yes, a lot of the fourths are augmented. I've heard of the Scriabin chord but I didn't know what it was... I guess he and I like the same things lol.

I agree with the staticity of the harmonies. This is a new way of writing for me so I tend to be more conservative, especially as I try out the new feel. I'm glad it worked for you, though!

Great advice on the score! I'll definitely make those changes.

Thanks for your helpful feedback!

Victor Eijkhout said:

Cool piece.

You say it's based on fourths, but that's not in the jazz sense: it lot of your fourths are augmented. That actually gives you the so-called "Scriabin chord", for instance in the first measure.

Your harmonies are very static. That's not good or bad, it just means that the piece sounds a little static. Which again is just the way it is. I enjoyed it.

Just one remark on the score: every once in a while you have three voices in the SA line. I think you need to indicate explicitly whether you have S & A1 / A2 or S1 / S2 and A. Choirs often have explicit role designations for 1st/2nd soprano/alto, so that will help them.

What a fascinating discussion regarding the tonal / atonal differences etc., particularly for me, in my still early stages of being an amateur - as well as a beginner!!

There is the famous saying, that you "really should learn the rules, before you actively decide to break them" (with purpose). My impression is that atonal music sometimes seems to have no rules at all, and sometimes is an extremely mechanical construction with nothing else but rules. Both approaches can make it so inaccessible at times. 

I personally still keep on struggling to gather and learn "the rules" effectively so far, either by myself, or with a bit of low-key help before. However, there is certainly an interest and motivation (and a little degree of ability as well, I believe). So, based on the saying above, I sometimes wonder, if I should carry on with this struggle of trying to learn "the rules", or simply leave that for a bit and really mainly follow the ear and intuition?

If I was try to advise or support someone else in this situation, I would probably say: "just enjoy yourself and go and play, so that you create and produce material, which you then can always revise and improve later...". However, I find it hard to give myself permission to do that, which is restrictive. I bet some of you have experienced a similar dilemma - and there probably is not a straight answer or solution for it. 

I learned the rules of CPP, conventional harmony and counterpoint and while I feel some are arbitrary these days – (they became the fodder for academia and money-making exams) they evolved as guidelines to good musical taste. Where I’ve found them useful was in younger years developing a pretty good inner ear – to be able to hear something musical and have some idea of how to write it down – and control: getting to what I want to quicker than having to experiment note by note, chord by chord… not that it’s always the case. At times I sit frustrated at the piano trying to “find the lost chord!” LOL maybe a sequence of notes that leads to the next bit already decided upon. A right cut and paste merchant, scissors and a tube of UHU on the work table.

But I fully agree with not turning it into a clerical procedure. Like with serial music much is predetermined once the initial material has been selected. Thereafter composing seems bureaucracy – rules and procedure. (There are plenty here who’d box my ears for saying that!) It took far more to undo the damage of serial insistent martinets than CPP and I’m still not sure I’m shot of that.

Ultimately we should write from the heart, whether it ends up atonal or not. As amateurs we can afford that. Professionals rarely can.

.

I cannot applaud this response enough.

If you want to be a composer worth his/her salt, I think it's vitally important to develop a good working grasp on harmony and counterpoint. It seems to me that a lot of contemporary composers of "fine" music skip that bit and go straight on to crafting the percussive aural assaults we all know and love. Although not its intent, I think serialism is attractive to so many aspiring composers because it transforms music into more of a science rather than an art. It appeals to the mantra that "anyone can compose," which, while technically true, does not mean that just anyone can compose "good" music.

Again, not true of everyone, but I do feel it's a trend.

Dane Aubrun said:

I learned the rules of CPP, conventional harmony and counterpoint and while I feel some are arbitrary these days – (they became the fodder for academia and money-making exams) they evolved as guidelines to good musical taste. Where I’ve found them useful was in younger years developing a pretty good inner ear – to be able to hear something musical and have some idea of how to write it down – and control: getting to what I want to quicker than having to experiment note by note, chord by chord… not that it’s always the case. At times I sit frustrated at the piano trying to “find the lost chord!” LOL maybe a sequence of notes that leads to the next bit already decided upon. A right cut and paste merchant, scissors and a tube of UHU on the work table.

But I fully agree with not turning it into a clerical procedure. Like with serial music much is predetermined once the initial material has been selected. Thereafter composing seems bureaucracy – rules and procedure. (There are plenty here who’d box my ears for saying that!) It took far more to undo the damage of serial insistent martinets than CPP and I’m still not sure I’m shot of that.

Ultimately we should write from the heart, whether it ends up atonal or not. As amateurs we can afford that. Professionals rarely can.

.

@Dane and Jörfi (and others): your favourites (e.g. books, online etc.) for Harmony and Counterpoint, or other resources (for relative beginners) would be gratefully received here...! (please)

Of course, there is plenty out there, and the appeal or respective value can be very subjective and personal,but it could be useful.

beautiful piece.

I wonder who performed it, are these computer generated VST or real performers?

Thank you!

It was one real performer (me), who recorded each part separately and then combined them in a mixing program (Reaper). Not the best sounding but a whole lot better, in my opinion, than the robotic voices of a sound library.

Saul Gefen said:

beautiful piece.

I wonder who performed it, are these computer generated VST or real performers?

Hi Liz,

I tried to find some works from George Wilson on youtube but could not due to name multiplicites.

Coud you please give a link?

Thanks.

Ali

Liz Atems said:

Hi Jörfi,

First off let me say that I enjoyed your piece very much - there is beautiful choral writing here and it has a very solemn, almost mystical quality that I find very appealing. Do you know Vagn Holmboe's Requiem for Nietzsche? It reminded me of some of the more meditative parts of that work, though not too closely.

As to the tonality - just as in the Holmboe (and even my own quartet), even though there is no clearly defined tonal center, I do not consider this a truly atonal work because it invites the ear to listen from a tonal, or maybe better, modal perspective. It uses a clear scale that sounds related to the whole-tone scale, and so is neither major nor minor, but still organizes the pitches in a way that is very different from that of the serialists. Maybe one way of saying it is that the pitches matter in a functional way, whereas in serialism they only unify by always occurring in a particular order.

One of my teachers at Michigan, George Wilson, once told me that I shouldn't worry about the pitches because they don't really matter. That's true of some music, and I really only use the term "atonal" to refer to them. Your work doesn't fall into that category at all, for me. Does that make sense?

Liz

This is really cool

Jörfi Terríson said:

Thank you!

It was one real performer (me), who recorded each part separately and then combined them in a mixing program (Reaper). Not the best sounding but a whole lot better, in my opinion, than the robotic voices of a sound library.

Saul Gefen said:

beautiful piece.

I wonder who performed it, are these computer generated VST or real performers?

Hi Ali,

His full name is George Balch Wilson. He was connected with the university's electronic music studio. You can find him on Wikipedia. I have never heard any of his works as they were not recorded back then (1970s). The Wikipedia entry lists only early works.

Liz


Ali Riza SARAL said:

Hi Liz,

I tried to find some works from George Wilson on youtube but could not due to name multiplicites.

Coud you please give a link?

Thanks.

Ali

I started learning early - I joined a choir more to get out of the house/home than to sing. The choirmaster/organist taught me the basics of 4-part harmony using some (now) old books - Kitson's Elementary Harmony. Part 3 was like opening a treasure chest to me but that's aside! I notice it's still in print in a single volume and available pretty cheap used at Amazon. (Note: academics have probably re-jargonised everything to get their doctorate theses but the principles remain the same. It IS a bit of an old treatise though and you'll probably find something less demanding in its insistence on how you should progress - or just omit the earlier parts that don't appeal!).  

I learned counterpoint in school from a teaching assistant. He taught me "species counterpoint" - basically a system taught in renaissance times, divided into 5 lessons to get a student from scratch to writing adequate polyphony. The rules are very strict and I doubt applicable to composers nowadays: useful to know about but limiting. I still have the book "Polyphonic Composition" by Owen Swindale. There are more modern books, some on contemporary counterpoint so it's worth looking through a few reviews and "look inside" on Amazon. 

It may be useful to have someone to hand occasionally to check how you're getting on but I reckon most self-critical musicians can self teach. If you play piano enough to work out what's going on with some of the book examples it would help. 

Hope that helps a bit, anyway and that others can come up with their choices or, who knows? On line help, should the idea appeal to you.

Actually there is a fair bit on youtube about these subjects....

Tillerich said:

@Dane and Jörfi (and others): your favourites (e.g. books, online etc.) for Harmony and Counterpoint, or other resources (for relative beginners) would be gratefully received here...! (please)

Of course, there is plenty out there, and the appeal or respective value can be very subjective and personal,but it could be useful.

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