Hey all,


Lately I've been trying to push outside my comfort zone, and am writing poly tonal music that is similar in style to Bartok, or perhaps Stravinsky.  I have been doing this mostly by ear, and to be honest, I could not explain how most of the harmonies function within the piece.  So, the question is how common is this?  Do fellow composers here write the same way?  My current teacher thinks what I'm writing fits, and is consistent enough in each piece that it doesn't sound out of place, but I can't help but feel a little bit unsettled about it right now.


BTW stay tuned for an upload of one of my pieces (written in this style) to the music dissection page.

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  • I'm mostly a tonal composer so I am always paying attention to each note and how one note or chord follows another. I've long felt that every single note must be paid attention to and its relation to its neighbors or the music suffers. Yet I can't say that others need do this, everyone is different and perhaps some do it naturally, by feel, like so many of the great Jazzers. Bartok is a special composer, in a way I think of him as the Bach of polytonality. It almost seems like he is such a master of it that the term polytonality is inadequate to describe him, he is not polytonal, he is newtonal - he's just creating a new language out of what were formerly thought of as dissonances, like jazz chords which are extended to 11ths, 13ths or more.

  • I can explain why I wrote every single note I put onto the page.

    I have been trained in linear composition techniques whose basis is the overtone series, and I compose "one line at a time". With this as the foundation, orchestrating becomes rather easy as each line was composed as an independent melody. 

    The proper way to write polytonal progressions is sectionally, so that they each sound correct independently from the other keys being sounded simultaneously.

  • For me, at different stages of a composition the attention to each note varies.  Sometimes I think in phrases or splashes of color first and then go back through and add motivic links, pay attention to clashes or consonances that sound off and use various strategies to fix it up, so to speak.  Counterpoint "rules" can be handy at this stage as a reference.  For example, if some particular D# sounds odd against a G#, I ask myself "is it because of a parallel fifth?  Is it because I've already used that pitch as a goal last measure?"  that sort of thing, so not used as rules but as guiding thoughts.  

    Really, everything I wrote here is but one example of composing, I've also worked with matrices and interval sets and such where the notes are sort of pre-determined, imagination comes in as to how to make the musical texture come to life, how to rhythmically drive the music, phrases, yadda yadda.  I am a firm believer that there is no one method to compose and that anybody who claims they have found the "secret" just wants your money, or wants to justify money they gave to somebody else.  Don't drink the kool-aid!

  • Sometimes I just spontaneously get ideas that I quickly record onto the computer (if it is next to me), or a piece of paper.  Other times I have to think hard until I get an idea that I am satisfied with, and then I write that down. After that, I will work with the idea, often taking in other ideas, and manipulate it all until I have a piece.

    I can't explain it any better than that.

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