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Topic: 12-tone question

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  1. #1

    12-tone question

    Or is that 12-ton? hmmm.



    If I am writing a 12-tone piece for orchestra, traditionally, do all the instruments "participate" in playing the SAME tone row? Or can I have the "accompaniment" of sorts (say the string section) be playing their own?

    I have this idea for a piece that starts out by having soft strings in flowing "chords" that are from a tone row, not repeating the same tone twice until finished with all 12. But then the "melody" is with the flute - using a different ordrered tone row.

    I am trying to beef up my 20th-Century music in my portfolio for university types to be looking at. So I need to make sure this is reflective of the accepted practice.

    Thanks guys.

    Jerry Wickham
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  2. #2

    Re: 12-tone question

    Traditionally, 12-tone music only uses one row, but that row can appear in different forms. If you're interested in a strict 12-tone work, you could, for example, have your flute melody be based on the original row, while the string chords are based on the inverted form of the row.

    There may be pieces that are based on more than one row, but I'm not aware of any.
    Dan Powers
    www.danielpowers.info

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  3. #3

    Re: 12-tone question

    Dodecaphonic works aren't particularly my speciality, but all sorts of different schemes are used in twelve-tone serialization.

    There's no hard and fast rule, unless you're writing in the particular twelve-tone "style" of a given composer.

    Babbitt, for instance, was fond of breaking up the row across a dozen instruments, and serializing the point in the row at which he rotated the breaks. Of course, he was also fond of serialing dynamics, note durations, and even tempi. (If he had half a chance, he probably would have serialized where people sat in the audience.)

    If there's any particular tradition with twelve-tone, though, probably you might want to preserve a full iteration of the row each time it is voiced. Unless you impose serial order upon the manner in which you distribute the row, breaking across voices might violate the spirit of the game.

    As for "harmony" and counter lines, again, practice differs: But if you want to stay as strictly to the board as possible, all of the material in the piece would be based on some permutation of the row -- "free" material, in the most rigid implementations, would not be permitted.

    David
    www.DavidSosnowski.com
    .

  4. #4

    Re: 12-tone question

    Dear Jerry:

    Well one of the traditionally ways of doing things is to create a “matrix” of all the possible permutations of the row. (see http://www.geocities.com/dan_cavanagh/matrix.htm) The matrix will list all of the possible permutations (original, inverted, retrograde, and and retrograde inversion) and transpositions of the row. So a composition would be created using just the single row, but at anyone time you could have any one of the (someone correct me if I have my math wrong) 48 permutations “sounding”. So given your example, the strings could be playing chords based on the Original Row while the flute is playing the retrograde inversion of the row (and possibly “transposed” to a different starting note).

    One primer on Twelve-Tone Composition is here
    http://www.geocities.com/al6an6erg/serial.html Serial Compositon

    “The basic tenet of the use of rows is that every note in a piece of music must be derived from the prime row. In Berg's 12-tone music, the basic tenets of serialism are often changed. Berg employed matrices and all of the transformations but often mixed twelve-tone music with non-twelve-tone music. He would also use more than one prime row within a single composition. Often Berg would divide the 12 tones of a row into two 6-note collections, or hexachords.”

    Which says Berg would mix two rows in one composition, so why not you.

    One idea that I pickup from (sorry I can not remember the person's name) is the idea of creating four “tri-chords” (I think this is Elliot Carter terminology, again corrections welcomed) each tri-chord contains three notes, and in the set of four tri-chords each note of the chromatic scale occurs only once. So, you ask, what is compositional reason for this? Well the tri-chords form a “chord progression” during each “chord” the notes in that chord can be played in any order as many times as one wishes. My piece http://www.sibeliusmusic.com/cgi-bin...?scoreid=61986 22,000 Songs Fall Silent uses this technique. But I am pretty free in my usage and offen “violate” the rules. My piece http://www.sibeliusmusic.com/cgi-bin...?scoreid=58722 Insomnia also uses this technique but is very free is the application.

    So my advice, one; there is a lot of information available on the web, just do some searches. And two; use dodecaphonic techniques as just one more tool in your tool chest of compositional techniques, being as ridged or as free and the materiel calls for.
    //
    // Ars longa, vita brevis
    // http://edosbear.blogspot.com/
    //

  5. #5

    Re: 12-tone question

    I haven't analyzed much 12-tone music, but I was reading thru an analysis of a piece the other night and I think the composer did more or less what you are suggesting. Let me take a look thru my texts at home and see if I can find it. Back tomorrow.

    ;-)

    Jim Jarnagin - no not THAT Jim Jarnagin, the other one.

  6. #6

    Re: 12-tone question

    Thanks Guys!!!

    D'OH! I should have remembered about the inversions, retrograde, transpositions, and other things pertaining to using a matrix.
    That helps a lot. I remember learning about these techniques when in Theory, and tried a few of them for assignments. but I couldn't remember whether or not there were hard-fast rules, or if deviations could be made.

    I remember one assignment was given in Theory where we were given a Matrix from Berg, and had to find and use a tone row in it that let us write a 12 tone version of "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" It was a lot of fun.

    Your reponses have been most helpful. Thank you.

    Jerry Wickham

    PS. I bet it is difficult to imagine me doing this kind of music, as it seems I have been particularly drawn towards very simplistic and melodic music these past few years.
    MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5ghz 4GB Ram OSX 10.5.8
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  7. #7

    Re: 12-tone question

    Even Schoenberg used multiple forms of the row simultaneously. It is not uncommon to find hexichordal combinatoriality utilized in his works. On analysis of his works it may initially appear as though he is repeating notes or breaking the series whem in fact he is using these combinations. In general here are some "classic" 12-tone rules:

    You may repeat notes.

    You may regress in the series if it is part of a pattern or ostinato. (some question this)

    Of course a note can sustain as the series continues (and then that held note can repeat...)

    Octave displacement is acceptable.

    Notes can appear in any voice/instrument.

    Of course, you don't need to follow any "rules." Just make music. Schoenberg composed his 12-tone works by intuition and great ears. The matrix didn't crop up until much later in history (Babbit, I believe).

    I find it is a great tool for generating ideas, but difficult to adhere to strictly and still keep things interesting. It feels kind of like composing in one key without any modulation or borrowed chords, etc.

  8. #8

    Re: 12-tone question

    Quote Originally Posted by dvincent
    Of course, you don't need to follow any "rules." Just make music. Schoenberg composed his 12-tone works by intuition and great ears. The matrix didn't crop up until much later in history (Babbit, I believe).)
    Well, I understand this, but as I say, I am trying to show people (mostly university professors where I want to go to music school) to whom I send my portfolio that I can write in these techniques. It is not a matter of my wanting to be proper for its own sake, but trying to show that I have a firm grasp on the techniques behind that kind of music. It is such fun to write this kind of music - but admittedly, NOT fun to just listen to. I personally love music for the way it makes me FEEL, not necessarily the way it makes me THINK.

    Thanks again.
    Jerry
    MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5ghz 4GB Ram OSX 10.5.8
    Korg TritonLe & MAudio Oxygen 8
    T3, Logic 9, DP7, K2, GPO4, Strad, Gofriller, C&MB, Finale 2010

    My Website!
    New Film Scores!
    Also, Ever think about having your very own personal documentary? See my new Website!
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  9. #9
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    Re: 12-tone question

    I haven’t seriously studied 12-tone music beyond the basics, however I have played with the technique a little.

    First I want to say that 12-tone music is not necessarily just intellectual – I find some of it very emotionally based – listen to Berg’s violin concerto some time.

    Anyway, I used 12-tone techniques as a starting point, not an ending point in my experiments. Here is an example that I wrote last winter. This was written in response to the tsunami.

    The first movement begins with a theme that is not based on my tone row. This intro theme comes back at the end of the first movement in the last movement. Almost all other material is derived from the tone row which you can hear in full when the english horn comes in as a solo.

    Except for the beginning and end the rest of the first movement is using the tone row very linearly. For this movement, once an instrument started a row on a particular note it will play it through to the end, whether in O, I, R or IR form. All the little flourishes and everything are the complete row.

    The second movement is a little different. I at first used the row vertically to put in a block structure of one note per measure. I then went back and started on the first note of the flute part and followed the IR until I reached the first note of the oboe part. I then took over from there and wrote until the first note of the english horn part and continued from there, etc. until I reached then end of my phrase. I rarely had all four parts going at once and some times I mixed up which instrument was playing which part or transposing different parts different levels so it is impossible to see the row, but it created the music. I also took clips from different lines to create background parts later in the movement. And then there was a series of chords built on the row in the middle. At one point the row actually comes in whole horizontally, but for the most part it is used vertically.

    I wanted the third movement to sound almost like 16th century religious music, so at the beginning I just used the row to create a theme and then harmonized it in a more traditional manner. In the second half it goes back to horizontal working of the row. Later I made the row sound rythmatically similar to a famous work and then actually changed a few notes in the row to make that theme stand out.

    The fourth movement is just a short variation on the first. I had it end on a note of hope, or at least a chord of hope – an actual major triad.

    A brief synopsis of what I was trying to achieve with this is as follows – 1st movement has a calm surface but there is a tension there, something ominous is going on. 2nd movement is all heck breaking loose and the response to it. The 3rd movement is a moment of quiet meditation for the victims with a return of hope at the end. The last movement is a return to normal with a hint of hope.

    Anyway, sorry to be so wordy. My point is, 12-tone music does not have to be a just a strict mental exercise, it can be, and should be just a tool to create music. My Quartet for Flute, Oboe, English Horn and Bassoon may never be a classic, but I do think it goes far beyond sounding like an experiment in mathematics.

    Quartet for Flute, Oboe, English Horn and Bassoon No. 1
    Trent P. McDonald

  10. #10

    Re: 12-tone question

    Quote Originally Posted by trentpmcd
    First I want to say that 12-tone music is not necessarily just intellectual – I find some of it very emotionally based – listen to Berg’s violin concerto some time.
    Well Trent, I was just making a broad generalization. I can appreciate what goes on into creating this kind of music - and actually get a lot out of listening to it because I do a lot of analysis in my head. It is fun to perform, compose and analyze, but for me, it is not my favorite to just listen to. (something I have tried very hard to regain since theory is the ability to just listen and not sit there and analyze every little nuancce of a piece. I drive my wife nuts because we cannot have a decent conversation while listening to music. My mind is habitually elswhere).

    And of course, emotional music AND also totally cerebral music have been written in almost all periods of music. Some of the most moving music I have heard comes from Bach - who also did a LOT of writing music for its own sake, very mathematical. But there is also a lot of embedded emotional content in there.

    I really appreciated your musical example and the discussion. Much appreciated!

    Jerry
    MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5ghz 4GB Ram OSX 10.5.8
    Korg TritonLe & MAudio Oxygen 8
    T3, Logic 9, DP7, K2, GPO4, Strad, Gofriller, C&MB, Finale 2010

    My Website!
    New Film Scores!
    Also, Ever think about having your very own personal documentary? See my new Website!
    http://www.mylegacyfilm.com


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