Composition Study #1

Posted by PH on February 20, 2013
Composition Study, Music & Technology, Students

I’ve just started teaching the Contextual Studies module on our new MA Creative Sound Production course. As part of this I’m working through a series of composition studies: the students have to compose a short piece each week using the techniques we explore in class and publish them on a blog. Trying to put my money where my mouth is, I’ve said that I’m going to do one as well.

The first week looked quickly at the development of classical music from the mid-19th century through into the 20th. Obviously this period saw a remarkable transformation in compositional methods, the most obvious signifier being the move into atonality. We could state the resulting question quite simply: what on earth were the serialists up to?

We ended up taking apart the opening of Webern’s Symphony Opus 21:

From our analysis we derived a set of compositional rules for our own studies:

  1. Use inversions, retrogrades, and retrograde inversions of our source material (which we were expecting to be primarily melodic).
  2. Use canons.
  3. Use klangfarbenmelodie (“tone colour melody”).
  4. Notes mostly off the beat: this is how Webern gets that “everything’s suspended” feeling.

In the end, I only really used (1) and (4). Once I had four variants of the basic melodic material that seemed plenty already for a short piece. A shame, because I love the idea of klangfarbenmelodie. Next time…

So, here it is: the first piece of music I’ve written and recorded (ahem, “finished”) in over 10 years:

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