A theorist friend of mine noted the prominent perfect fifths in the “moderato” piano piece from my current piano consortium project (I posted a fragment here), saying that this was not something he was used to seeing in my music. I wrote back that the fifths – and the triads, for that matter, were part of a conscious effort to freshen my harmonic vocabulary – to get away from a more exclusive focus on the 013, 014 and 016 world, with its tendency to octatonicism. I also wanted something different from the diatonic (with a few funny notes) vocabulary that is my usual other gambit. Actually there are a lot of fifths in my more diatonic music, a whole lot. I rely on stacked perfect fifths a great deal. Look at the first page of this. (click on the image of the first page.)
On the local level, the new piece obviously uses the symmetrical structures of Bartok, Berg, and Varese that I learned about from George Perle and I think those patterns work reasonably well. However, I look at the piece now with a certain amount of dismay at how the large scale structure seems arbitrary – the cadences, for example, are to:
B-flat over F
B-flat, E and G fall into the same symmetrical axis, but it is hard to relate the other harmonic resting points. (I’m going to skip over the tricky question of whether these points are all of equal structural weight.) I actually thought about revising the piece to end on A, but that seems no less arbitrary. Maybe the piece is more about other things – degrees of tension, polymodality, modal planeing – rather than some sort of post-diatonic tonality (a phrase of Perle’s – its partner being “post-tonal diatonicism”. The two sum up a great deal of twentieth-century harmony.) And just how important is it to end on the chord/key/tonal center that you started on? Is anyone really disturbed by the fact that the later strains of a Joplin rag are not in the same key as the first strain? (Actually, I have on my office bookshelf a score anthology for use in theory classes where the editor expresses concern about exactly that…sigh…)
The scherzo is very much an 016 piece, but there are other things as well. I liked the idea of writing something that seemed to be rather neoclassical, even neo-baroque (it’s a sort of gigue) but kept going off the rails every few bars. I also liked the idea of writing a seemingly straightforward ABA (the excerpt I posted only shows the first A), and even having a literally repeated first strain in the trio section (I can’t remember when I have ever used a first ending/second ending notation in a concert piece before this.) The second A starts the gigue in inversion, as a good suite movement should, although the tritones are now perfect fourths, at least part of the time. It’s as though the mode has changed. The trio is dominated by scales that are a compressed variant of the figuration in the A section that involves a step then a seventh.
It’s a very thin thread of connection, but I had in mind the scherzo of Beethoven Op. 2, #3, where the A section has imitations and the trio is just arpeggios, and relatively athematic, like my trio.
I hope the pianists will play the rhythms precisely so that the written out rubato and the written out accelerando will come through as I planned – they don’t need to do more than what is there. This reminds me of an interpretation problem in Brahms – when he writes an augmentation with a rit. over it, are you really supposed to rit., or is he just acknowledging what the augmentation is doing for you? Of course, he is the guy who puts < > over a single chord in a piano piece – which I think Schoenberg does as well. (I always took that to mean “espr.” or “dolce”.) Of course, part of the pleasure of handing a score to a performer is to discover new things about a piece that you (foolishly) thought you knew – after all you wrote it! – and my pianists will undoubtedly teach me things about the rhythm – and a great deal else – in my music that I didn’t know was there.