b Riding East: October 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chorale #2

I've returned to the study of counterpoint. I've spent some time with Giancarlo Aquilanti looking at Palestrina and church modes. I'm tempted to transcribe several of Palestrina's chorales for piano and perform them. Here is an excerpt of the Kyrie from his Missa Brevis.

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like without Bach. I suppose it's wrong to give him credit for the tonal language that defined classical music for the next couple hundred years. But if one were to identify the Dante of tonality, Bach would certainly be a likely choice. Without Bach, or perhaps without the clear definition of the tonal language, is it possible the polyphony of Palestrina would have evolved differently?

It's almost easier for me to make the jump to polytonality from polyphony than from tonality. With polyphony and church modes, you don't have the strong cadences that typically define a tonal center. And hence you have the opportunity to create more ambiguity, more nuance. I wonder whether composers such as Stravinsky and Ives attempted to build the bridge back to Palestrina and polyphony. My initial work on the Inferno cycle reflects my own desire to explore models of polytonality.

I recall the stories of how often Robert Schumann would go back to the Well Tempered Clavier to study counterpoint. Certainly an understanding of counterpoint and motion in music is as relevant today as centuries before. Motion seems fundamental to music, and without an understanding of dissonance and counterpoint, I wonder whether true motion is possible. I would like, therefore, to spend more time learning about counterpoint, and I want to understand the polyphony of Palestrina.

At any rate, my Chorale #2 is nothing so grand, but rather a simple exercise in counterpoint and church modes. I find the piece sounds slightly modern -- I don't always prepare the dissonance (fourths, seconds, sevenths) for example. I had a lot of fun developing the subject.

Chorale #2
Chorale #2 score
Chorale #2 original score

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Inferno II: Andante Agitato, first revision

I continue work on the cycle of symphonic pieces composed to text from Dante's Divine Comedy. I now have three movements composed to the Inferno, plus the two cycles from Purgatorio.

I've gone back, as promised, to Opus 7: Inferno II Andante Agitato, the second movement of the Inferno cycle. I wanted to further develop the piece on the return of the A theme, including the addition of a violin 'solo' during the return. The cello and violin additions here are challenging to perform. I've introduced some new concepts here into the return, and so far believe the piece has grown as a result. I still need to finish setting the choral sections to the text I've chosen, again from Canto II as referenced in the first post for this movement.

Inferno II: Andante Agitato
Inferno II score

So, at this juncture, I have more or less three movements, II, III, and IV, to the inferno. I have some ideas for the first (and final) movement, and will begin working on it later this week.

Inferno IV: Moderato

I'm attempting to build out the cycle of Inferno, modeling images to text from the first several Canto's of Dante's Inferno. When I originally wrote this particular movement a few months ago, it didn't not belong to any cycles and so I, by default, grouped it with the nocturnes. I was attempting to express some of the darker images I have of man's existence when writing the piece, and so feel comfortable adjusting the work and now including it with some of the other works from my Inferno cycle. I was obviously influenced by the composer I quote in bars 92-95, and don't necessarily cherish the proposed answer (?) provided here.

Regarding the composition, I worked on two concepts for the piece. One concept was to maintain two seperate tonal centers with associated seperate meters that eventually converge. Another idea was to develop a modified triadic progression maintained in minor until a cadence. I realize I push the horns, but am interested in that strained sound, and believe it will work.

Inferno IV: Moderato
Inferno IV score

Divine Comedy
Inferno, Canto IV, 1:12
Copyright © Princeton Dante Project

A heavy thunderclap broke my deep sleep
so that I started up like one
shaken awake by force.

With rested eyes, I stood
and looked about me, then fixed my gaze
to make out where I was.

I found myself upon the brink
of an abyss of suffering
filled with the roar of endless woe.

It was full of vapor, dark and deep.
Straining my eyes toward the bottom,
I could see nothing.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Prelude #5

I've finally set Prelude #5, a chorale prelude, to text. I knew when writing this music what text I wanted to use including several of the key passages, but I wrote the music first and set the text second. I'm not sure, in retrospect, this is optimal. But it produced an interesting piece, a piece that has a lot of meaning for me.

Prelude #5 updated
Prelude #5 Score for Choir (six part)

I guess I'm discovering a spiritual side of sorts -- spiritual as opposed to religious that is. Having grown up in Utah, I've come to accept that spirituality is part of who I am. On the other hand, I haven't concluded whether I'm agnostic or athiest, perhaps agnostic as I don't want to suggest that I have an agenda to convince others of a belief system, and lack any confidence to suggest otherwise. I certainly respect religion and appreciate the lessons it offers life. But I also fear religion, and the power it seems to offer man over man. I've never liked arbitrary power, and I've often witnessed the abuse of such power to subjugate or even exploit people. Yet I can't seem to suppress deeply spiritual feelings I have, humbly offered forth in this chorale. I dedicate the chorale to my mother. I hope it offers her some peace.