Sunday, July 8, 2012

Serial Composition Reginal Smith Brindle

When I'm not crabbing about reviewers who still confuse actors with the characters they perform, I am reading a little.

Reginal Smith Brindle's book (1977 version).   Great book.

Its two books really; one a practical textbook on how to compose, the other about serial music. Its a book from the 60's and perhaps needs a little amending.  It is written as a culmination rather than a transitional book. There is a defensiveness here (expected), a defense of our art. Also again, for me anyway, is a return to Hugo Leichtentritt and the focus on coherence (it is called here musical reason on page 62). Also the need for atonality to be a subset of tonality. If it makes sense it must be tonal. 

The possibility that non tonal music being its own sonic world is not addressed. At least not in the positive. It even seems that when it comes to harmony (consonance and dissonance) there is more of a closeness to Hindemith than Schoenberg. (pages 70-72)  One wonders if all the focus on strict compositional rules (for example rather than avoiding parallel 5ths and octaves in traditional harmony we must now avoid false relations of the octave),  is to prove that this is not random composition.  

For this reason I consider this book a culmination as he can't seem to envision a future outlook or propose serial music's interpenetration with other styles. Perhaps its unfair for me to say this because as a composition manual it limits its focus- to model what is current.

As too the vocal music section (page 112) is excellent but there is one major omission.

There is no consideration of setting text so that it might be understood or not understood during a performance.  The words can be set correctly according to rules layed down here yet be completely incomprehensible.  Not a bad thing just another compositional choice.
 He calls Schoenberg's Pierrot mechanical missing the point that in Pierrot every word can be understood. That part of tradition carries through.


Vocal melizmas may accent a word of poetry by length but can also obscure its meaning by making complete sentences discontinuous. Text can also be reduced to vocables completely obscuring meaning.
This is not the bel canto tradition (page 115).

There is also no mention of the different approaches to vocal music by vocal VS instrumental composers.  For me Berio is an instrumental composer, Dallapiccola is a vocal composer.  Schoenberg, like Mozart, can be both.

In his Accentuation of words (page 116) seems to be written from an instrumental composers point of view.  The idea that the highest note combined with longest note of a phrase, or just dynamics, or rhythmic stress will accent the important word is in itself true but not all of it. This technique is also true of most instrumental phrases as well just replace word with note.   A vocal composer might note that a long held high note is the dramatic high point in bel canto aria, a particular word or words are besides the point. They (the important word and note) can coincide but they don't have to. It is also difficult to understand words set too high or too long but can create an effect.  Art is larger than its rules. Song setting is different from aria, song cycle is different from song.

So I ask this question:  During the performance can the words be understood and perhaps more important was that even the goal of the composer?   Perhaps the push to prove historical connections between compositional eras misses a few niceties.

Choral music (page 119) 

Not much here is there?

Interesting how choirs continue  to avoid serial music.   I believe that choir directors are so bound up with their sound. They, the conductor, must come first and so chose their composers with this fact in mind.

More to Come as I continue reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment