Theory: Composition Class Assignments for 2.8.2019

This week’s goal is to edit or finish anything that you might be considering for the upcoming recital or for the banquet. If you’d like to have anything on the program for the March 2nd banquet, I need to know that by next week’s class so I can pass that along to the appropriate planning personnel.
Back to last week, here is the info on the selected modern composition techniques we discussed:
Aleatoric, or chance, music has some element of control given over to the performers. The extent to which the performers have control is still up to the composer, and can range from just a little bit of control to absolute and total choice given to the performer. John Cage, an American composer, was probably one of the most famous writer of aleatoric music. One of his most famous works, 4’33”, makes the audience essentially the performer. Noises made by the listeners and by ambient noise in the room becomes the performance. It causes us to feel the uncomfortableness that comes with silence and to pay attention to the sounds around us. In Hovhaness’s “And God Created Great Whales,” the orchestra begins with aleatoric, non-rhythmic noodling, essentially, making a kind of atmospheric mood that is then permeated by recorded whale sounds. I have to admit I really love this piece.
“Extended techniques” are using instruments in non-traditional ways. Examples include prepared pianodifferent bowing techniquesnontraditional singingnontraditional playing methods, etc. The sky’s the limit on this kind of thing. It’s really just taking normal instruments and using them in somewhat abnormal ways.
Atonal or serial music takes all of the hierarchy of tonal centers out of the scale, and makes every half step equal in importance. Championed by Arnold Schoenberg, who developed twelve-tone technique or dodecaphony, this music can be quite challenging to listen to because there is not a tonic, or many cadences, or any areas of auditory rest. Notable composers include Schoenberg, and his pupils, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. It’s incredibly difficult music to perform, and requires great skill with listening and interval knowledge.
Impressionism is much more palatable to most listeners. It involves writing music that gives a sense of an idea, rather than explicitly stating it. France was the center of Impressionism in all art forms in the early 20th century. Claude Debussy is the most famous Impressionistic composer. Some well-known works include ImagesPrelude to Afternoon of a Faunand Claire de Lune.
Graphic notation, used to great advantage by George Crumb, uses the score as a part of the art form. Scores are drawn in such a way that they are part of the overall impression of the piece. Many of them also have aleatoric elements to them, as well. Some examples include MakrokosmosAventures by Gyorgi Ligeti, and Treatise by Cornelius Cardew.
Electronic music emerged in the middle of the 20th century as new technology allowed for composers to manufacture sounds, manipulate sounds, and piece things together in ways that had previously not been possible. Electronic music is used often in commercial/pop music now, but it was quite a revolution in the 40s and 50s. Edgar Varese’s Poeme Electroniquepremiered at a world’s fair in 1958 and allowed participants to travel through an exhibit where images and sounds were played on a loop. Participants controlled their experience by managing how fast or slow they went through the exhibit.
Minimalism is a type of music we did not discuss in class, but is still a major type of modern composition. It uses a great deal of repetition, often taking motives and repeating them over and over, changing them ever so slightly, in a kind of meditative or reflective way. John Adams’ Short Ride on a Fast Machine is one of my favorite pieces of the 20th century, and never fails to get my blood pumping. Other examples include Clapping Music by Steve Reich (takes the same motive and shifts it by one eighth note for one of the performers until they come back around again)An Hour for Piano by Tom Johnson and performed by Dr. Andrew Lee who will be our Skype guest in class soon, and Metamorphosis by Philip Glass.
There’s so much happening in the last 100 years that it’s difficult to describe all of it. Not to mention that there have been revivals of earlier kinds of compositional styles, like neo-classicism and neo-Romanticism that uses elements of those eras in new and innovative ways. It would be very interesting in another 100 years’ time to hear what musicologists call this era.
My musical happy moment this week made me laugh out loud. I hope you enjoy “Gimme Some of That Ol’ Atonal Music.”

Heather R. Nelson, PhD

Singing Voice Specialist

Voice Teacher