Posted in Project 3: Serialism

Exercise 4.0

This exercise is about creating a twelve-note row, with each note appearing only once, and all notes kept within one octave. I chose to make it more ‘random sounding’ rather than ‘tonal’, since I usually rely on tonality a lot and never experimented with other options.

In addition to creating the primary row, retrograde, inversion and retrograde inversion, I’ve also created a few transpositions. Here is the end result:

Here is also the audio version of Sibelius playing through the sets:

In reflection, I found the process of serialism and twelve-note row quite interesting, however, also very mechanical. I’m used to composing from a melodic idea in my head, rather than purely from external notation. Although I think this creates very compelling melodies, I still prefer working out material from my ‘inner-ear’ rather than the dry technicality of notation. However, I do think there is place for serialism in my music, though I would probably reconfigure the technique. In general, it is very important to learn as many techniques as possible, and as such, having this new style of composition in my musical vocabulary is very significant. I also find it very interesting that despite how different and random they seem, all versions of my twelve-note row seem to have a weird sense of similarity. This is probably due to them being derived from the same source of the primary row. In any case, the twelve-tone technique used to seem very random and accidental to me, but now that I understand its background, I recognize that the style is as thought-out as any other in the Western musical tradition. Although I don’t completely align myself with its objective ethos, I hope to explore serialism more in the future.

Posted in Project 3: Serialism, Uncategorized

Exercise 4.1

This exercise is about the theme (bars 34-57) from Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 given in the course material. The brief offers several questions which I will answer below, keeping with the given word-count of 350 words. I have listened to the example provided in the audio resources for the course.

  • How are the individual phrases shaped?

The individual phrases of the theme all derive from the primary twelve-tone row (bars 34-39) in retrograde, inversion and retrograde inversion with different transpositions. In terms of the form, it might be noticed that the rhythmic material is the same between the Haupstimme in the cello and violin, and it might be argued that the structure is the ternary aba, if the section starting from bar 46 until 50 could be considered b. I found that Schoenberg (cited in Zovko, 2007: 41) himself named the sections a (bars 34-45) as Vordersatz (antecedent) and section b Nachsatz (consequent).

  • How are motifs developed to create a sense of progression?

Although the motifs are all related, the melodic variation created by the retrograde, inversion, retrograde inversion, as well as transpositions, all provide enough variety in pitch, intervals, and direction of the melody, which produces a sense of development. At the same time, the expression markings, tempo and the varying rhythm all contribute to the progression and increase in the interest of specific tones.

  • How do these attributes, among others, create the emotional journey of the theme?

This is something I found very difficult to answer in terms of the Sibelius audio example, which sounded very mechanical and I couldn’t really identify anything ’emotional’. And so, I decided to listen to a recording of the piece in which the theme was being played by live musicians. Indeed, in this setting, the 3/4 time signature and dynamic marks really made the melody dark, suspenseful and undulating, which turned the atonality to be very expressive rather than dry and neutral. I have to mention here that this element somewhat surprised me – I assumed that dodecaphonic music is based on complete objectivity and impersonal sound, and I feel like I have underestimated its use of dissonance and the emotive response this can produce. In this regard, the way the melody rises and falls, pauses and repeats in different contexts of retrograde, inversion and retrograde-inversion and transpositions, sounds very human to me, in a kind of gloomy psychological way. Finally, it is interesting that Schoenberg himself had to argue for the musicians to perform his music in the same expressive way as they would perform Beethoven and other composers. (Huscher, n.d.)

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