Composing Instrumental Parts

In composing for instruments, I have developed a personal compositional style derived from a fusion between the forms of classical tonal music and the écriture of atonal serial composition of the 20th century. This compositional method informs all of my work, encompassing both instrumental and computer output.

Due to the development of atonality in art music throughout the 20th century, our aesthetic preferences and musical vocabulary have expanded. However, we are still engaged in tonality in our daily lives, and a large majority of music lovers enjoy concerts of classical repertory. I sometimes wonder if our admiration for tonal music is timeless, and whether tonality follows certain kinds of rules of nature much like the harmonic structure of sound.

One of the symbolic phenomena of tonality is the hierarchy among the 12 tones of the octave. For instance, in music in C major, the note C appears with greater frequency than other notes. The note G, a fifth above, follows in the hierarchy. I hypothesized that it should be possible to create a potential tonality in the context of an atonal series by forming a hierarchical relationship among 12 tones in an octave. The brief description below of “Discrete Transfer” introduces this method specifically.

Solidity for 10 instruments (1983)

Solidity (1983)

Friction for alto-fl, cl, pf and harp (1986)

Friction (1986)

Piano part of Discrete Transfer

The piano part of “Discrete Transfer” was composed using a rather free serial composition technique based on a tone series consisting of 21 notes: four of B-flat, three of D-flat, three of F, and three of A, while the rest of the 12 tones appear only once. Obviously, this original pitch series implies the potential tonality of the key of B-flat minor. B-flat, D-flat and F compose the tonic triad of the key of B-flat minor, and the pitch A is its leading tone. In the second part of the piece, this tone series is transposed upward by an interval of a perfect 4th, implying the key of E-flat minor. Then, the potential key is moved further to C-minor/major, F-major, and comes back to B-flat minor in the recapitulation. In total, this “harmonic” movement forms a cadence in the key of B-flat minor: I-IV-II-V-I. While maintaining the stylistic expression of atonal music, “Discrete Transfer” travels in the musical domain of classical modulation, and the form creates an ambiguous symmetrical structure in the time domain.

The kernel of this idea was developed for my piece “Solidity: transformation of my internal dialogue for 10 instruments” in 1983. Since then I have been refining this method in all of my instrumental compositions.

Discrete Transfer for piano and computer (2012)

Discrete Transfer (2012)

Discrete Transfer (2012)

Discrete Transfer (2012)

Discrete Transfer (2012)