3.2.The Duel: from amalgamation to annihilation

morphing polyphony, heterophony and homophony

In the course of the opera the protagonists appropriate some elements of each other’s leit-ideas with further psychological implications, particularly important in Scene 4: The Duel. In that scene Death and Life gradually start to fuse as a result of their battle. Becoming completely identical at the end of The Duel, they annihilate each other, disappearing from the opera altogether. Technically speaking, when they commence brisk dialogue interchanges, they gradually come to sing a single line which is split between their two voices, whilst only their orchestral embodiment continues to maintain their separate identities. However, they continue to fuse further until in bars 857-860 they are singing simultaneously, which is the only instance in the whole opera where two voices sing together at the same time. (Example 12) Thus the idea of dialogue and monologue is brought to an extreme in this work in general. I chose to reserve the simultaneous singing, the ‘real duet’ in operatic terms, namely for the extraordinary event of ‘annihilation’ of Death and Life.

That is also the point where the general ‘melodic recitative’ approach, which otherwise prevails in this work, disappears, together with Death and Life, to give way to the only ‘aria’ in the opera – Scene 5. That introduces a notion of ‘liberation’ in the general psychological state of The Human, as developing throughout the opera. As she is the character who is present in every scene throughout the work, the whole action happens in her mind, or dream, which resembles in general Schoenberg’s idea of ‘psychological drama’.

A technical feature with general relevance which is particularly prominent in The Duel is the fluid transformation from one kind of texture to another. I have been deliberately visualising morphs between textures, and this approach is generally prevalent in this opera, and appears to varying degrees in the majority of other works in this thesis. I must underline that morphing does not necessarily have to be slow. It can happen rapidly as well, and still be a fluid transformation, as it is in some instances in this scene.

As the textures from The Mirror migrated to later works, albeit subjected to numerous transformations and variations, it is worth discussing an aspect regarding their classification as polyphonic, heterophonic, homophonic or monophonic, and some further technical significance.

Jonathan Dunsby posits that: ‘monophony, polyphony, homophony and heterophony. These are not categorically distinct’.106 (click)  Pierre Boulez states: ‘It is possible not only to combine them, but also to pass from one to the other’.107 (click)  He further describes heterophony as an intermediate stage between homophony and polyphony.108 (click)  From the two definitions that he gives for heterophony, the first expands directly on the wide-spread view: ‘the superimposition on a primary structure of a modified aspect of the same structure’.109 (click)  This coincides in essence with the definition in the Grove Dictionary 110(click) (only we have to substitute ‘structure’ for ‘melody’). He then gives a second definition for heterophony with a more particular bearing on pitch organisation: ‘a structural distribution of identical pitches, differentiated by divergent temporal coordinates, manifested by distinct intensities and timbres’.111 (click)

The texture in Figure 6 does not fit with either of these definitions for heterophony. The three lines have different contours and they cannot be seen as modifications of each other, or of a single line. The pitch collections for these lines are also not identical, although they sometimes converge, but each of them also contributes with particular pitches to the overall pitch network, which pitches do not feature in the other lines. Thus the texture in Figure 6 fits better with Boulez’s definition for polyphony. Even more polyphonic are some instances of this texture in my Three Songs on Poems by Dora Gabe for Violin and Soprano (discussed in Chapter 4). I term this kind of texture morphing polyphony. It is a particular kind of linear, non-contrapuntal polyphony - the verticals are not considered punctus contra punctus, the voices are unique and independent, and are also not simultaneous variations of a single line, as in heterophony. At the same time that is also not the traditional atonal linear polyphony technique from the twentieth century. The harmony of this texture is controlled horizontally through the background morphing modal network, and its interaction with the foreground texture within the framework of morphing modality. (Refer back to Scheme 1 (click here) and substitute ‘monophonic’ with ‘polyphonic’.)

On the other hand, comparing the texture in Figure 6 with its varied instance in Figure 15, we will find that the latter is still not fitting to the first of Boulez’s definitions for heterophony, as the lines are again not simultaneous variations of a single line, but it may be however fitting with his second definition. When this kind of texture is particularly dense it becomes inevitable that the lines share a significant number of common pitches, as the possible number of pitches in each moment is limited to those in the background morphomodal network (which does not usually exceed eight pitches per octave at once, in my method generally).

Thus, that kind of texture morphs between heterophony (when it is denser) and polyphony (when it is sparser). Within this continuum there is a great amount of intermediary stages for exploration.

Furthermore: monophony, homophony, polyphony and heterophony could be placed at the ends of a multidimensional continuum, and all the intermediary stages between them explored in the general process of morphing. Much of the textures that I use could be seen as instances of intermediary stages/morphs, and a few particularly curious instances are: The Mirror: b.1036 to end (Example 10), bb.650-670 (Figure 18); The Sacred Flight: fig.F-J (Figure 8); A Seasong: bb.44-54 (Example 4); String Quartet: bb.35-40 (Example 17).


4.Three Songs on Poems by Dora Gabe

Modal Centre

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