Composing with Students

My participation in the music theatre education project YOUR_Street.Scene at Magdeburg Theatre has come to a successful conclusion. It was fun to supervise the creative process which resulted in a collaborative composition by a number of students of International School Pierre Trudeau in Barleben. We ended up with a four-minute score for six instruments, originally intended as an overture for an outdoor scenario in loose reference to Kurt Weill’s opera Street Scene. Due to the current circumstances we were unable to present a live performance of the music. Instead, two video trailers have been produced as a documentation of the musical and choreographic work.

Diversity at Composition Faculties

Today’s reading recommendation: The journal of the Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie (ZGMTH) has published an intriguing survey on the underrepresentation of female and non-binary faculty members at the music theory and composition departments of German music universities. The authors Irene Kletschke and Kirsten Reese highlight basic problems and causes of this misbalance and, most notably, give a list of recommended actions to improve the situation. In doing so, they would not simply postulate a women’s quota but make a series of suggestions how to tackle this issue on the structural level of academic administration. I hope that some deans, principals, and educational policymakers will take notice of these considerations.

Triad Squares

Recently I’ve been fooling around with different figures to display chord relations, to some extent inspired by Euler’s and Riemann’s Tonnetz. I now came up with a 5×5 grid containing all 24 major and minor triads (with the middle position left blank) and tried to find a meaningful layout for such a triad square. There seems to be no entirely consistent way of arranging the chords so as to adhere to one single rule for the derivation of adjacent fields. Yet I found two interesting layouts, one of which tends to emphasise third relations, while the other prefers hexatonic poles. I’m curious what you think of these figures, and if they might be of any use in a transformational harmonic theory, apart from illustrating cycles of minor thirds and octatonic regions in symmetrical patterns.

To be sure, this is just thought-in-progress and by no means a fully developed approach, so I’ll be glad to hear your opinions and suggestions. In case I might have unconsciously reproduced some recent findings from Neo-Riemannian Theory which I was unaware of, I’d appreciate if somebody pointed out a source to me. Also, if you can think of another more convincing 5×5 layout, please let me know.

Whole-Tone Diatonicism?

The hexatonic or whole-tone scale (Messiaen’s mode 1) is not actually diatonic but a symmetrical scale, constructed from an equidistant division of the octave in six portions, which results in scale degrees separated by two half-tone steps from one another. This contradicts the common definition of diatonicism as a sub-category of heptatonicism, requiring seven discrete scale degrees in unambiguous alteration. However, it is possible to derive a whole-tone scale from diatonic material, which I am going to show here.

To this end I will make use of tetrachordal theory. A tetrachord consists of four adjacent diatonic pitches in the range of a perfect or augmented fourth, coming in four possible variants which differ by the existence and position of half-tone steps: Ionian (2 2 1), Dorian (2 1 2), Phrygian (1 2 2), and Lydian (2 2 2: no half-tone step). If we conceive every diatonic mode as a combination of two disjunct tetrachords transposed by a perfect fifth, there are seven combinations making up the seven diatonic modes—for instance, the Aeolian mode consists of a lower Dorian and an upper Phrygian tetrachord, while the Mixolydian mode consists of a lower Ionian and an upper Dorian tetrachord. The eighth combination, though, joins two Lydian tetrachords to a non-diatonic whole-tone scale, provided we allow the upper tetrachord to transpose by a diminished (instead of a perfect) fifth. The resulting scale (2 2 2 0 2 2 2) has six pitches, but makes use of all seven scale degrees, with a diminished second F-sharp / G-flat at the center. In the plagal variant, the scale covers the range of an augmented seventh G-flat / F-sharp.

Birdsong at the Piano

Glad to announce that I will be supervising a new edition of Mily Balakirev‘s piano transcription of Mikhail Glinka‘s song Zhavoronok (The Skylark), to be published with G. Henle Verlag. The autograph and first edition, issued in Saint Petersburg in 1864, are considered lost, which means that I will have to rely on other prints from the late nineteenth century—such as a Gutheil edition with this beautiful art nouveau title page. Looking forward to working on this project!