I’ll never forget the words of a respected professor (admittedly intoned with more than a passing hint of sarcasm): “minor seconds are generally more acceptable than major seconds in new music”. He implied that people feel more comfortable with the ‘nastier’ version because it more closely conforms with a generalised view of contemporary classical music. He was joking, but the notion of contemporary music as an art mainly concerned with ugliness is widespread. Nevertheless many contemporary composers are very preoccupied with the idea of beauty (Lachenmann’s seminal essay The Beautiful in Music Today seems an obvious example) and plenty of recent works have received praise for their beauty.
Faced with the opportunity to write for a quintet of student performers who were unfamiliar with contemporary music, I turned to the supposedly ‘ugly’ minor second as a starting point. Among the performers were two singers. Vocal training drums a certain kind of thinking into musicians that can make singing anything not ‘in-key’ intimidating for people new to contemporary repertoire. I decided to write a work that made no great demands on the ear in terms of pitch (making life easier for the singers). The tonal language used is based on familiar ones, though quite individual in itself. At the heart of it all is the minor second, which is treated as point of stability and a thing capable of great beauty, not as a point of tension that must be resolved quickly.
Structurally, the piece is based on two very traditional forms: the passacaglia and the chorale. Chorales are usually thought of as harmonic expressions (the musically vertical), while passacaglias are based on melodic activity (the musically horizontal). In truth, they are both equally harmonic and melodic in construction. I use them here as a means of determining the primary treatment of the fabled minor seconds at the heart of the tonal language. Passacaglia & Chorale exists in the borderlands between melody and harmony; the compositional approach continually switches between the obviously melodic and the obviously harmonic. The passacaglia form and the chorale form provide alternative contexts for similar musical elements.
12 minutes 30 seconds
May 2008: FOCAM, Adam Fergler (conductor), Leftbank Leeds
Powered by Wordpress Theme by Goodlayers