containing the theoretical text with relevant excerpts from the scores and sound recordings
The chase will never cease,
until it returns to that place, that is its own
and will be known for the first time.
Marike van Aerde, The Mirror, Libretto
The Doctoral thesis consists of two components which are closely related:
I am not going to discuss how my works can be analysed, nor will I give exhaustive comparisons to other composers’ approaches and compositions to which those might be similar. That is a task that another researcher could undertake, whilst I am the only one who is aware of how the present works were composed. Therefore I think this is the most useful content I could give to the present commentary, which is thus focused on the compositional method from the point of view of the composer.
On the other hand, a wide range of traditions and composers will be seen to have played a role in the development of my method and style and I will describe how some of these traditions and composers have influenced it directly.
Thus the discussion will be focused not on comparison and analysis, but on synthesis, and one particular term that I use for the particular technical synthesis that features in the present web of works is: Morphing Modality. It is a method for composition which will be described comprehensively in the following 7 chapters and which method was the tool for composing the submitted compositions.
I emphasize that the present thesis is a symbiosis between the compositions and the theoretical text. Therefore the most thorough and comprehensive answers to any of the questions governing this research are not limited to this text, but are to be found in the works themselves – in their scores and recordings. This commentary gives an overview of the most important fundamental compositional principles and choices which were seminal to the creative process. It outlines a set of main concepts and issues which I was most preoccupied with in the process of composing these works. These issues are interrelated and will be presented and discussed as such.
The most prominent amongst these issues is that of ‘pitch organisation’ – ‘harmony’ and the adjacent issue of ‘texture’. My compositions preceding this PhD research had involved extreme contrasts in pitch organisation, developed with tonal, ‘modal’, atonal and twelve-tone techniques, which had resulted in a certain eclecticism with which I had become increasingly dissatisfied. That problem had set a main goal in my agenda to work towards a single, integral yet very flexible technique for pitch organisation which would enable me to achieve the extreme contrasts in harmony required by my aesthetics without the need to switch between the differing techniques mentioned above, because that alternation I had identified as a main reason for the perceived weakness in harmonic integrity. The result of this quest is the compositional technique developed within this research. It is based on ‘modality’, but the understanding of ‘modality’ itself and the practical approach to it had to be broadened and refined. Instrumental to that development proved to be the incorporation of some important fundamental principles from the theory and practice of Eastern-Orthodox Chant. The concept of horizontal harmony and the practice of monodic modal modulation (described in Chapter 1) which I have observed in this multi-millennial tradition inspired me greatly and one of my main goals was the incorporation of these concepts and practices in my own compositional practice. That process of incorporation and integration is outlined throughout Chapters 1 - 6. Particularly important to it is the specific relationship between the dynamically shifting modal structure in the background and the linear contour and rhythm in the foreground, embodied in the function and relationship of the several groups of neumes in the Byzantine neumatic notation and their implementation in the practice of chanting (Chapter 1). This observed relationship influenced greatly my compositional method in terms of redefining the working relationship between harmony and texture in my music (Chapter 2). An essential product of this relationship is the capability of creating a particular kind of perceived harmonic structure through a single line (Chapters 1, 2). However, I have ventured to integrate this approach with particular kinds of multi-voiced texture developed by some twentieth century composers (Chapters 2, 3). I worked towards amalgamating these diverse strands into a particular holistic approach to creating polyphonic, heterophonic and homophonic textures with a specific sense of ‘morphing modal harmony’ (Chapter 3). That opened up certain new opportunities for practical exploration, stemming from the horizontalization of harmony and the resultant liberation of the various textural components from vertical intervallic and chordal considerations in the process of creation of multi-voiced textures, while retaining a precise control over the sense of harmonic structure and colour (Chapters 2, 3, 4). In addition, a particular approach to verticals emerged; ascertaining a particular kind of modal clusters as important elements in this compositional method. (Chapter 2.2, Conclusion). Another important issue in this research was the integration of microtonal elements (as employed theoretically and practically in the Eastern-Orthodox Chant tradition) with the semitonal system that is central to the Contemporary-Classical music practice within which my works are composed and performed (Chapter 5). The concept of ‘mode’, the nature of the modal scales in terms of their scope and intervallic structure, the concept of ‘modal centre’ and the issue of cyclic construction in modes and scales (where the octave-repeating cycle is not the only option) were also explored, broadened and refined both practically and theoretically (Chapters 2, 4, 5, 6). Issues of rhythm and musical form were also explored, and discussed in Chapters 3, 7.
The order, relationship and focus in which these issues are outlined in this text aims to construct a coherent overall picture of this systematic compositional method as it functions in my mind in the process of composing. This has important implications for the structure of this text. The nature of the Composition PhD portfolio, as defined by the regulations, requires a relatively brief theoretical text because that is only one of the two constituent components of the thesis, the other being a substantial portfolio of compositions. Therefore this text, which despite my efforts towards concentration and brevity, still slightly exceeds the upper acceptable word count (with permission from the examiners), had to be focused on certain priorities, inevitably. It proved impossible to provide within these limits both a detailed discussion on the gradual development of ideas and methods in the process of creating these compositions, while at the same time outlining all the necessary components of the compositional method that give a sensible impression of it as a whole. For this reason I chose to give preference to the latter for several reasons. Most importantly, all these works (both the ones submitted and the ones excluded from the presentation) are developed with the same compositional method, which I have been developing and refining throughout the PhD research period and beyond. Therefore I find it more important to create a holistic outline of its overall system of principles in the present text by describing its most important features. I will use the discussion of each composition in the course of this commentary in order to outline one or more of these grounding principles and facets, but it should be noted that they are valid in varying degrees for all the other works in the thesis. Although I do not have the space to discuss fully and in detail this transference of principles, it should be understood henceforth as a basic rule. Every following chapter will then build upon the concepts and methods outlined previously, adding new ones, to eventually create a complete outline of the basic framework of this compositional technique, valid for all compositions in total, while only notable exceptions and differences would be discussed more particularly. Therefore this text (and the thesis portfolio as a whole) is not focused on a presentation of the journey in time, but on underlining the web of interconnected principles and facets that are pertinent to all presented compositions, and seminal to my compositional method as a whole, which is the final result of this journey. Furthermore, I do not view the set of compositions as a string where every next one ‘follows up’ and ‘improves’ on the previous, but as a web, where connections run across space and time, and sometimes compositions that are set years apart are more closely related than ones written in the same period, or even simultaneously. Thus the aimed structure of this text is similar to the intrinsic web-structure of the compositional method itself, and of its artistic product, as I see it.
This structural approach to the current research sets some challenges and has some particular effects on this text. Although it is meant to be read through, it creates a puzzle where pieces are missing throughout the course of the presentation, and that puzzle becomes relatively complete only by the end of the text if it has been followed through. Although in the conclusion there is a summary, it is naturally rather brief, and inevitably lacking on important detail that is presented within the main body of the text. For that reason, and because some of the topics are concerned with the very foundations of theoretical and practical thinking in music and composition, it might be misleading to jump to conclusions only on the basis of that attempted final summary without paying enough attention to the detail outlined in the main text and present in the music within the thesis. The chapters themselves are not self-contained entities which would give each composition a complete treatment, but rather – ‘junction points’ in the ‘web’ that present an important idea each. The full meaning of that idea, however, will be further clarified in other chapters of the text in most cases. Therefore, the complete discussion of each composition will not be confined only to the chapter where it is the ‘main protagonist’, but will continue to unveil in the following chapters, or in some cases references to that composition will anticipate its main discussion in the text.
Furthermore, as mentioned already, the text itself could contain only a certain amount of detail in its limited span. Therefore it aims only to focus the attention of the reader upon the most important facets and principles of the compositional method as I see it. Meanwhile, it should be remembered that the scores form a substantial part of this thesis and are a key to the complete understanding of the topics discussed, while the text, as detailed as it could be, has a structure that is not arbitrary. Its focus is indicative of my own viewpoint regarding the structure and significance of the grounding principles of the compositional method described in it. For these reasons the order of appearance of the compositions discussed in this commentary is also not chronological but follows this logical construction.
Furthermore, in selecting these compositions amongst all works that I have composed during the PhD programme, I chose them not on the basis of which works I find most successful, as that is something that I am not objective about, and therefore it might not be the best criterion for such a selection. Rather, I have selected works for which I have obtained suitable recordings by the time of the submission, and which works are also ones that exemplify most saliently, in my view, the principles and features that I have aimed to underline through discussing them in the course of the present text. Before I proceed I must touch upon a couple more related issues, which are relevant throughout the text.
It will become clear that I support a view that listeners’ experiences vary 'from person to person, from situation to situation and from time to time'1 (click here for footnote) Nonetheless, there are stable properties and factors that determine our perceptions of music in general and of each work of music in particular. The interaction of these factors is very complex in a living music score, which is one of the reasons for the variability in perception. As a composer I could neither ignore the aspect of perception, nor can I account with any certainty for what each and every listener, or group of listeners would perceive. Although fundamental issues of musical perception are thoroughly researched and elucidated by music psychologists, the thorough application of their findings within the context of the complex interaction of elements in my scores is not a straightforward task, and not one that I would venture into within this text, as I have no means for the empirical testing that would be required. But with that in mind, I do not believe that any statement similar to: ‘that is how the passage is heard by the listener’ could be relevant in this context. With the variability of perception taken into account, the personal perception of one listener would not be identical to that of another, and even the same listener might have ambiguous or differing perceptions regarding the same passage of music on different occasions or in different interpretations of the same work.
However, as I will concentrate on the process of composition, and not on analysis, when I discuss how music sounds I will account for how do I personally hear certain musical situations in my scores. There might be other listeners who will hear some of these aspects similarly, and in some cases that might be how the majority of listeners will hear them. I do not have the means to ascertain that in the present research, but having in mind that I listen to my own music in order to shape it, how I hear it has a key role in the process of composition. That will therefore be at focus in my commentary.
I will also refer to relevant research of theoretical, analytical, psychological and historical nature indicating towards a wider significance for the issues discussed.
I will also focus on the matter of choice. In my view every choice an artist makes is a valid choice. There is no right or wrong choice in art and every artist has the right of making a personal choice, according to their own beliefs and aesthetical agendas. However, making an informed choice I find very important and I will describe many of the informed choices that I have made in my work. This does not underestimate the importance of intuition and irrationality. It will become clear that in some fundamental technical choices I have sought to give an extra space for intuition, for the unconscious and the paraverbal conscious; and for inspiration, including a particular kind that is essential for me, but cannot be explored in this entirely technical research. I will touch upon it only implicitly in Chapter 2.
Thus the following chapters will be focused upon:
technical aspects, such as compositional strategy, pitch organisation, texture, rhythm, form, leit-ideas;
inspirational aspects, such as Eastern-Orthodox Chant, Image Metamorphosis, the Classical and Contemporary Classical music traditions and composers;
life, death, style and ...windows.