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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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There is a certain stasis to the tonality.. which can remind one of minimalism in that respect. (One could hear the whole piece {well, as far as I listened - some 5 minutes} as one chord.  The impression is lack of emotional tension - due to its non modulatory -ness. 

Geert, my 2cents on this is that predetermined structures don't in and of themselves create a 'musicality' .. 

Though, as an experiment, some things could be gleaned.  

To me, this was more of a 'vibe', than a musical journey. 

I agree with a lot of things you say, but perhaps in a different manner than you would expect. It is true that in this piece there is a tonalic "stasis", as you call it, because the idea of it was to stay within the rather severe restriction of the seven pitches of the traditional tonal scale. So all tonal variation here is at best variation in modality, and there is a certain modal tension in the basic theme, which is explored by the different appearences of the theme (either recto or in some kind of inversion).

To say, however, that the whole piece could be perceived as one chord is, to my mind, way over the top. Dominant and subdominant harmonic functions do occur in it, although which much less emphasis than in traditional tonal music. This is because harmony in the traditional sense — i.e. explicit harmonic development by means of modulations — is carefully avoided here. It is exactly because I wanted to find another way of doing things that my first concern was to get away from this emphasis on harmony. For it is this emphasis on harmony, which has led Western music into kind of "harmony on steroids" first, and then, subsequently, to a complete dissolution of the harmonic framework. Harmony is the big problem of Western music, which, at least since the beginning of the XXth century, has resulted in its exhaustion and to atonality.

So my intention was to write a more "bland" type music as far as harmonic development is concerned, without giving up on the basic tonal characteristics. This resulted in a type of music which is more symmetrical and shows more episodes of easy going swing (which can be heard e.g. in mm. 158-208) and pleasure in making music, instead of pursuing some agenda of dramatic tension and development. 

This brings me to your "lack of emotional tension". Yes, in a certain way, but, as I perceive it, the piece doesn't lack emotion, or. perhaps better, mood. Its mood is rather joyful.

Nobody would dispute that predetermined structures of themselves don't create musicality. That's not the point of these structures. 

Thanks for this comment. As you see, my long reply is not an attempt to deny or refute your observations, but more an occasion of formulating and making explicit for myself how to interpret my own work. I understand very well that from a traditional way of listening and a traditional concept of harmony my composition seems rather dull at first. But I'm convinced that repeated listening opens up to new subtilities and sensibilities. 

gregorio X said:

There is a certain stasis to the tonality.. which can remind one of minimalism in that respect. (One could hear the whole piece {well, as far as I listened - some 5 minutes} as one chord.  The impression is lack of emotional tension - due to its non modulatory -ness. 

Geert, my 2cents on this is that predetermined structures don't in and of themselves create a 'musicality' .. 

Though, as an experiment, some things could be gleaned.  

To me, this was more of a 'vibe', than a musical journey. 

I somewhat agree with Gregorio, though I wouldn't go as far as saying the whole thing is just one chord, I think what's missing here is more variations along the parameters you've chosen to restrict yourself in. For example, the rhythm could be far more greatly varied than you have here, which would spice up things much more.  After the 5th or so time, the ascending chord tones of the main subject starts to sound too much the same; this could have been avoided by stretching/compressing different notes, making chords out of consecutive notes (serialism-style), and freely transposing the mode of your chosen "tone row".  In spite of the restriction to the notes of the C major scale, there is plenty of room in other parameters that can be exploited to create a heightened sense of drama, that's rather weak here.

(Funnily enough, just today I was toying around with an idea I've had for many years now -- that of subverting the techniques of serialism by applying it to the 7 notes of the C major scale.  So this is very much something I'm also interested in, and I have to say that the possibilities are much more than has been explored in your piece.  You could have gone so much farther with this.)

Hello H.S.,

Thanks for your comment.

I’m aware that I could have gone much further with my method of composition, but this piece is just a first attempt and obviously no piece can really exhaust a method or theory. To explore other possibilities is something I have in mind for future experiments.

I wanted this piece to be smooth, elegant and easy to follow, with singable melodic lines, and thus quite traditional in appearance, at least in some respects.

Therefore I chose a tone-row that was at the same time a musical theme. I limited myself to the seven tones of the traditional diatonic scale, because I wanted to see for myself what exactly would happen to the basic functional harmonic structures by doing so. That was why I avoided complications like making chords out of consecutive notes of the row (vertical organization of the row).

Another reason for avoiding such complications was that in this piece the rhythmic structure of the theme is also part of the same method. I have considered the option of leaving the rhythm free from serialist constraints, but in the end I decided that doing so could easily lead to all kinds of arbitrary decisions. So there are in fact two rows or queues in my piece: A row of tones (or an interval-structure) and a row of durations (or a rhythmic pattern).

This resulted in three practical possibilities of varying the musical material: (1) by retrograde movement; (2) by changing the starting point of the row; (3) by letting the rhythmic row getting out of shift with the tone-row. I used all three of these. I could have added inversion, if I wanted, but this would lead to the emergence of a tone scale of the minor mode, which I couldn’t use here.

When I view the structure of the piece as a whole, I don’t think that the main theme is repeated too often. The piece has a traditional ABA form, with the introduction of a main theme and a second theme in A, variations of these themes in two subsections of B, and then a return of the A section plus a coda. Perhaps you get a little bored because you expect too much from the harmonics, which are rather bland (at least from a classical perspective).

As to this last mentioned point, I should perhaps emphasize that the basic units here are interval-relations, and that tone scales and harmonies, resulting from these relations, are just epiphenomena. For this piece I chose a tone-row which resulted in a C major scale in order to better explore some possibilies of serialism outside a dodecaphonic framework. 

One of my main objectives in developing this method is to get rid of the traditionally dominant (at times tyrannically dominant) function of harmony, and especially the strong addictions this causes to our way of listening. In my view, harmony ought to be reduced to a far more modest and accidental position in the complex whole of musical factors. Only this can bring about a new equilibrium of the proper demands of the other factors.

I don’t know whether I succeeded. I realize that one can have a good theory and still make bad music, or the other way around. Or both can be good, or even both can be bad.

Geert, without judging the piece, I think, yes, this can happen. A piece can be "rigidly organized but have a improvisational effect." I had this impression often when listening to Brahms.

Geert ter Horst said:

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 agree with your observation, although not entirely with your conclusion.

I think I can explain this "improvisational" impression. It has to do with the function of harmony. The serialistic structure excludes explicit harmonic cadences, for the harmonics of the piece based on the interactions of the series or tone-row as it appears in the different parts. So, as result, there is not much involvement of harmonics and harmonic tensions in marking off sections of the piece. The function of harmony here is simply to create pleasant combinations of tones. However, since these combinations are made within the framework of the traditional diatonic scale, the harmonic functions of these combinations are retained, and so are the basic tensions T, D, and S. But these functions and tensions are no longer emphasized or exploited. And this creates a big difference between this type of serialism and the more classic ways of composing. 

Since cadences are used to emphasize the tonality of a piece or a section, there's not much use for them is this tonality is simply an after-effects of the tone-row that was chosen for the serialist working method. Another factor is that in this particular piece no modulations at all occur. If there are no modulations, what's the need of emphasizing the tonality by means of harmonic candences. 

The result of this way of composing is thus a rather free floating movement of phrases and harmonies, in which nevertheless the elementary functions and the internal relations of the pitches of the tonal scale are preserved. They are not destroyed because the serialism is not dodecaphonic and doesn't intend to destroy tonal-modal relations and functions. 

What happens here, in my view, is that this working method opens up to all the inherent nuanced relations between the pitches of the scale, without forcing them to fit into the schedule of T, D, and S harmonic functions. 

At first, this obviously creates a kind of "emptiness" or a lack of orientation for the listener, which causes an "improvisatioinal" impression. Because the T, D, and S harmonic functions are no longer the overriding forces in explicit cadences which mark off sections and subsections, much greater attention has to be paid to the more horizontal forces, i.e. the melos of the row and the basic melos-based tensions between the pitches of the scale. These were highly disregarded by the classic methods of composing, which first and foremost aimed at harmonic development: cadences and modution schedules determined the framework in which the other factors had to fit in. 

I say this, let this be clear, not to eulogize the qualities of my piece, but from a theoretical perspective, trying to understand for myself the shifts in hierarchical importance of the diverse musical factors by this method of composing. Whether I succeeded in dealing with these shifts in this composition is another matter. 

This being said, I still uphold that the basic ABA structure is easily perceptible, and this is, I think, true also of the subsections in the central B section. 

In my opinion the elemtary requirement of building musical tension and resolution is not absent from this piece. Let me add a few words on this, since you quote Jon Corelis' remark. Tension and resolution are however more inherent in its melos than in its harmonics. Take for instance the symmetrical melody in the viola (in mm. 60-69 & 230-239). This melody, which can be regarded as a summary of the entire piece, clearly shows the building up of tension and the release of it, in accordance with its symmetrical structure. But if one listens to it with ears formed by the expectations of classical harmonic supporting and emphasizing this melodic structure by means of candences, one will become disappointed, because this explicit harmonic support is lacking here.

But exactly this "lack" was what I was looking for. It opens up the possibility of exploring the finer nuances between the functions of the pitches of the diatonic scale and of creating a more freely floating music, without leaving basic tonal gravity. 

Thanks for your remark. I like questions and remarks that invite me to think things over again. So if what I'm saying either sounds unclear or mistaken from your perspective, don't hesitate with follow-up questions or criticisms. 

Jan-Frederik Carl said:

Geert, without judging the piece, I think, yes, this can happen. A piece can be "rigidly organized but have a improvisational effect." I had this impression often when listening to Brahms.

Geert ter Horst said:

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.

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