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This piece is one of my efforts to develop new ways of composing within a modal-tonal context. Everything in it is based the introductory theme, which functions here in a somehow similar manner as dodecaphonic tone row. Variations are produced by traditional polyphonic techniques of inversion and symmetry as well as by serialist procedures.

My idea behind using these techniques and procedures is to preserve interval structures and rhythmic patterns, in order to keep the internal modal-tonal tensions of the theme intact and to play with them.

You will notice that I followed the extreme option to keep the piece strictly diatonic. Chromatic alterations are completely absent from it. No sharp or flat notes at all. In keyboard terms it is for the white keys. I kept to this rather severe restriction because I wanted to explore the internal relations of the diatonic scale.

I had to drop traditional rules on parallels of fifths, &c., however. These rules more than anything else, force the music into the stylistic framework of the classic-romantic era. I followed my intuition in what makes sense here, since much early music is exactly full of such parallels. 

I hope all this doesn’t sound too pretentious or bombastic. It is just an effort, an experiment to be judged by musical criteria. One of my most important motives in writing music and thinking about it, is the complex of problems involved in the concepts of the diatonic and chromatic scales: tonality and modality versus atonality.

Here is the Youtube video url: https://youtu.be/-mP7hPKO4Qg Comments, questions, and criticisms are welcome.

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Parallel fifths aren't always bad! I agree.

My own feeling is that the meaning of music is found in its structure, and its structure is created by its transitions, and its transitions are created by the establishment and release of tension, or (to put it another way) by the raising and fulfillment (often after deliberate frustration) of expectation.  The problem I see in the technique of the piece posted is that it seems to preclude any resolutions, giving a rambling, random effect, thus also precluding structure.

You must have been listening to another piece, for, honestly, how can you speak about a rambling or random effect of a piece which has such a clear structure? Actually an old-fashioned ABA structure with subdivisions. As to the techniques, it escapes me how they can be problematic, since they are centuries old and were already in use by the old polyphonists.



Jon Corelis said:

My own feeling is that the meaning of music is found in its structure, and its structure is created by its transitions, and its transitions are created by the establishment and release of tension, or (to put it another way) by the raising and fulfillment (often after deliberate frustration) of expectation.  The problem I see in the technique of the piece posted is that it seems to preclude any resolutions, giving a rambling, random effect, thus also precluding structure.

I gave it a listen but have no comment to make. Your opening statement makes declarations I can't agree with but if, as you say, it was an experiment only you know if the outcome was success. It does seem to follow a dodcaphonic-like style but therein lies a (compositional) problem to me: - too much is predetermined by the initial choice of material.  But that's just me. I came to hate the 12-tone and total serialism because while it makes solid structural sense it makes no semiotic musical sense. It questions why we listen to music. The follow-up question being "what is music"? At what point does the perceived aleotoric of sounds in one's vicinity become music? 

Then again, it was Cage who fervently wanted us just to listen. So it comes down to expectations I suppose.

Your piece works because you've limited yourself to the Ionian scale that, in spite of serial development, comes with some of the semiotic clues that mesh with the ordinary expectations of a listener. Except starting on what traditionally is a dominant 7th it never really resolves - well, at times  seems to, onto it's final (of C in this case), but never goes anywhere else. Was I able to close my eyes and absorb the work? No.

Did you think the experiment was a success?

Sorry - I typed "onto it's final" - of course, the possessive was intended. Too late to edit. 



I came to hate the 12-tone and total serialism because while it makes solid structural sense it makes no semiotic musical sense. It questions why we listen to music.

I was interested in this comment because it seemed if I understand it that the concept "solid structural sense" was similar to the idea I mentioned above about musical meaning coming from structure.  So the question might be, or be similar to, "How can non-traditionally-tonal music be structured so that it will have meaning to the listener, and especially to the listener who is not a musical theorist?"

One of my own works may serve as an example to hopefully extend the discussion. This is a section of a longer work I composed which is partially atonal.  This part was composed more or less (but perhaps not strictly) following the rules for twelve-tone row composition, but attempts to create within that context a musical work having melodic and harmonic elements which structured it in a way that the average non-academic listener could recognize it as music.  It's called "Spring Equinox" for flute quartet (two flutes, alto flute, bass flute.)  The sound file was generated with software.

Spring%20Equinox.mp3

Hi, Jon,

I'm reluctant to turn Geert’s thread into the discussion itself but he did raise certain philosophical issues in his opening post and I fell into trap of giving a personal view! 100% right it’s about meaning, making sense of the signs hence a rather risky mention of semiotics. I suppose music does behave like language in some respects but it’s a stretch – and complicated by an apparently human accord with “notes” and chords based on the harmonic series. Composers who use these properties (and deliberately distort but resolve them) are transmitting to a receiver who innately recognises the properties, so communication of sorts is achieved.  

In that sense Geert’s piece does follow some of these properties. Where it didn’t work for me, the lack of tension and release. The absence of more than the simplest harmonic progression. Emotion wasn’t evident and I think I look for that in music. So it resolved as a technical exercise. Others may be perfectly happy about this.

So serial music can work – well, even dodecaphonic serialism can work if it occasionally introduces elements, phrases or melodic lines that run close to harmonic principles. They can act as an anchor. Some people find Berg’s music works because of this.   

It wouldn’t be prudent to comment on your piece in Geert’s thread. Could it be posted as a new thread? It isn’t dodecaphonic and makes one wonder what “serialism” actually means. A style of construction rather than the thematic material itself?

But yes, it’s an interesting discussion.  Quite a big one too.

@Geert - you've started something!

I wondered if I should post it separately but since it relates to this discussion I posted it here.  I don't know if I can move the comment it is in out of this thread, but I will post it separately one way or another.

Edit: I've put a copy now here.

Let me add some general remarks, because I fear some confusion has been generated by the term "serialistic" which I used in my introduction. My serialism has not very much in common with Schoenberg's dodecaphony, because my theoretical perspective is different.

Schoenberg invented serialism in order to be able to create a music which would avoid tonal centres and only rely on the internal interval-relations of the twelve-tone row on which it is based. He decided that this step was the unavoidable consequence of the worn-out state of romantic tonality, which was already completely undermined, for example by Strauss in his Elektra. I think Schoenberg was right in his diagnosis, but that his cure signifies a leap into desperation. In my mind a-tonality is not really possible, since a residual tonality will always be preserved in the interval-relations of a twelve-tone row. If there appears a fifth (what we in Europe call a quint) in this row, then the lower tone of the fifth will function as an ad-hoc tonica of this interval, and if it has a minor third (tierce) in it, the upper tone will function as its ad-hoc tonica.

So using the twelve-tone or dodecaphonic technique just leads to very complex tonal relations, which because of their complexity generate the impression a-tonality.

From this state of affairs I conclude that Schoenberg's technique — since it cannot really attain its goal of atonality, because this goal is contrary to the natural laws of tone-relations and exists only as a limit in thought — should perhaps be given a different interpretation and use, if it is going to help us escape the dead-end situation it was invented for. 

The valid and fruitful basic idea of it is that if you have a row of tones, a melody, or some harmonic constellation, or just some other nucleus of tones, which functions as the basic building block of a composition, then the internal relations between its elements have a certain priority over and above the tonal setting(s) in which this nucleus can be used. Exploring the internal relations between these elements, especially the ambiguities and tensions between them, then leads of itself to fitting tonal settings.

To give a simple example: If you have for nucleus the tone row f, g, a, c, d, e, this row can be interpreted as fitting the classical c major scale. But it also fits the f major scale. A third possibility is to interpret it as fitting the medieval lydian mode. To take this row as the starting point of a composition thus creates the possibility of exploring its internal tensions and ambiguities, and of letting explicit tonalities result from this exploration rather than the other way round. To say it in a clearer way: Tonality is here more result than starting-point. Our starting-point is the inspirational nucleus from which we work. In exploring and using it creatively, the result can be classic tonality, or some kind of modality, or rather a plurality of tonal and/or modal centres, which result from this nucleus and the way it is used. 

A new domain of liberty is thus opened to the composer, and he no longer has to start with some idea of the scale or tonality which is to be the framework of his composition. This framework "automatically" results in the long run of the composing process. The composer is thus positioned on a line, so to say, between, on the one hand, the rigid tonality and cadences-style of the Vienna classics, and on the other hand the imaginary limit of a-tonality. The compository nucleus of a tone-row can now function as a structural orientation point — in this new post-Schoenberg universe where at first sight everything seems possible. 

My own composition shows in its nucleus a tension between the ionian (classic major) and the mixolydian scales. This tension remains constantly present, and is in the end solved because the ionian scale shows itself to be the strongest of the two. 

Perhaps some composers work intuitively in this way, without the explicit framework of a nucleus or tone-row and/or the explicit serialistic technical methods that come with it. Which is fine of course. For me, however, the serialistic techniques are of much help in avoiding both the tempting pitfalls of a-tonalism as well as falling back into an uncritical and since long outworn approach of tonality.

Very interesting piece and concept Geert.  I did enjoy the music; it might not make my top ten list but it's a good listen. Thanks for posting.

I partially agree with your observation about tension and release in my piece. You describe this as a lack, which it is of course from a traditional classic-romantic perspective. But if you go back to the great polyphonists of centuries ago, you'll notice a similar lack of tension and release. Sometimes this music sounds rather blank in romantic ears. For a part this is the effect of the polyphonic style, in which all the distinct voices each follow their own curves of tension and release, which only sometimes coincide with those of the others. 

Using serialistic techniques, which largely, but not completely, are the same as the techniques of the old polyphonists, certainly has the effect of making harmony, especially explicit harmonic development, a less important factor in the tension-release curves. But this is just the effect of the intention to get away from the classic-romantic interpretation of tonality with its enormous emphasis on building harmonic tensions by creating dissonances and releasing them in series of cadences. 

The classic-romantic interpretation of the tonal scales with their harmonic properties is not the only one possible or legitimate. Medieval composers which let their music flow in parallels of fifths or fourths, or Renaissance polyphonists, did't know this typical and one-sided emphasis on harmonic development. They would have found it rather unbalanced and overdone if they'd had the opportunity of listening to it. 

As I see it, from a serialist perspective, the emphasis tends to fall more on variation and symmetry. These are other forms of tension and release. There are many other ways of making contrasts than by harmonic means. Here another comparison to the old polyphonists is fitting. In polyphony motive- or theme-splitting as part of creating tension — which is the classic and romantic procedure par excellence — is carefully avoided. Polyphony demands the preservation of the entire basic theme, which is only varied by inversions, retrograde movements, augmentation and so on, and leading it into other voices.

Please notice also my additions to my introductory remarks.


Dane Aubrun said:

Hi, Jon,

I'm reluctant to turn Geert’s thread into the discussion itself but he did raise certain philosophical issues in his opening post and I fell into trap of giving a personal view! 100% right it’s about meaning, making sense of the signs hence a rather risky mention of semiotics. I suppose music does behave like language in some respects but it’s a stretch – and complicated by an apparently human accord with “notes” and chords based on the harmonic series. Composers who use these properties (and deliberately distort but resolve them) are transmitting to a receiver who innately recognises the properties, so communication of sorts is achieved.  

In that sense Geert’s piece does follow some of these properties. Where it didn’t work for me, the lack of tension and release. The absence of more than the simplest harmonic progression. Emotion wasn’t evident and I think I look for that in music. So it resolved as a technical exercise. Others may be perfectly happy about this.

So serial music can work – well, even dodecaphonic serialism can work if it occasionally introduces elements, phrases or melodic lines that run close to harmonic principles. They can act as an anchor. Some people find Berg’s music works because of this.   

It wouldn’t be prudent to comment on your piece in Geert’s thread. Could it be posted as a new thread? It isn’t dodecaphonic and makes one wonder what “serialism” actually means. A style of construction rather than the thematic material itself?

But yes, it’s an interesting discussion.  Quite a big one too.

@Geert - you've started something!

Thanks. If my piece makes your top eleven list, that's all right with me :) 

Ingo Lee said:

Very interesting piece and concept Geert.  I did enjoy the music; it might not make my top ten list but it's a good listen. Thanks for posting.

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