Posted in Project 7: Examples in Different Scales

Example 3: Sylph

Note: Before you look at my example, you can read my research about the flute and the nonatonic scale, both of which I’m using for this piece.

The third elemental being I decided to paint musically is the sylph – the fairy-like spirit of Air, which I think really suits the timbre of flute. Here is the score:

You can listen to the audio version below:


The scale I used is the nonatonic scale in the whole/semi/semi tone version, and the notation I chose is: D E F F# G# A Bb C C#. Much like the previous octatonic example, I use the scale as a pitch collection – shifting between the pitch and harmonic centers, while also exploring the other, smaller collections that are found within the nonatonic scale. The overall form is ABA.

The A Section (bars 1-5) is based on fast arpeggiated chords in Allegro tempo. The harmony here is based on the D natural minor sub-collection of the nonatonic scale. The time signature I used is a bit unusual – 15/16, easily counted as 3 beats consisting of sixteenth-note quintuplets. It’s only on the cadence that I switch to 2/4.  The chords I used are 7th, 9th and 11th chords which give a distinctive sound. I think these arpeggios sound really good on the flute and showcase its agility. The progression would be i7 III7 (2nd inversion) IV11 (perhaps from Bb D F A C E) and i9 (2nd inversion). The last note is the dominant tone A. In this part I imagine the Sylph soaring with the wind towards the sky.

The Section B (bars 6-28) begins in the high, brilliant register of the flute, representing the high heavens. The trill figures mostly imitate the fluttering of air, or perhaps the Sylph’s wings. I checked several trill charts and I think all of them are playable. The B section consists of subsections. Subsection a (bars 6-20) consists of two sentences that form a musical period. While I focused on the natural D minor sub-collection in section A, in the first sentence (bars 6-13) brilliance is invigorated by the A major sub-collection. The second sentence starts with the brilliant A major, but soon the pitch center shifts, first to F# minor and then d minor and F major. Subsection b (bars 21-28) continues with the harmonic shifting and serves as a kind of retransition leading back to the recapitulation of A. Although I’ve notated A# as Bb, in the first 4 bars the feeling of F# major as the dominant of B is really strong, but the Neapolitan, Phrygian C leads to Bb, A and back to D natural minor of section A. It may seem like I’ve modulated to new scales each time, but actually, the nonatonic scale consists of all these harmonies, so I’m actually modulating within the nonatonic pitch collection by shifting tonal centers.

Finally, the piece concludes with Section A1 (bars 29-33). This is, of course, not a literal recapitulation of A, only its ideas, which are quite varied. First, 15/16 is modified into 10/5, and only in bar 32 do I actually have the same thematic quintuplet figures in 15/16 from the original A section. Harmonically, the first two bars form a kind of modulatory sequence linking the previous section to the original thematic quintuplet figures. This gives the feeling of the rising wind, calming down with the last bar. Mostly the mediant relationship is used in the sequence. I could have made the harmony more clear by notating Gb and Db, but I chose to stick with my original notation.

To conclude, I loved writing this musical portrait! I feel like I’m becoming more daring with the use of scales and time signatures, while still retaining many of the things from my old classical style that I was trained in. There is one elemental being left. You can see its musical portrait in the next post here.




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