A ‘new’ take on the ‘old’

A ‘new’ take on the ‘old’

Whilst doing my undergraduate degree, I took a module where I had to write a ‘contemporary’ piece that drew on a ‘contemporary’ compositional style, such as minimalism or serialism. In the end I chose both – a duet for two instruments (though only one performer!), with each using a different style. Although I’d dabbled with serialism in the past, I found it really not to my compositional taste. In order to make it more ‘me’, I created a very rhythmic and relatively tonal tone row, which I then transformed throughout the piece into similarly appropriate rows.

Interestingly, while some people praised the idea of taking serialism and adapting it to suit my own purposes, others were outraged at me ‘tainting’ the serial technique. This bemuses me slightly. Surely, in order to progress musically, everyone has to challenge the rules and boundaries of the musical world in which they’re working? If you want to stick to them and write a piece that is entirely serial in style, then that’s absolutely fine, but what’s wrong with wanting to create your own interpretation of the rulebook?

Two years after writing said piece I went to college, where I was once again encouraged to write a serial piece. This time I pursued it in a more traditional manner, albeit with some added electronics and extra effects – however, I wasn’t anywhere near as satisfied with the results as I was with the first.

Fast forward to today. In gaps in between lessons at my various schools I often find myself doodling on the piano. As part of my recent doodlings, I came up with a quirky tone row which I became somewhat obsessed with. It was originally going to be the basis of the next Thoughtscape piece, but some creative thinking of the train made me reconsider it. Why use just the one piano?

Piano duets

The interplay available within a piano duet means that a higher quantity of voices can be in play at any one time. Each of these voices could be operating to its own set of rules – or not! If two voices are both working to a tone row, but using completely different rhythmic material, you can create something interesting, quirky, and yet that doesn’t immediately ring true as a serial-inspired piece. This idea is becoming a central point in the piece.

Writing a duet is giving me the opportunity to tick another box on my “To compose” list: the duet will be a work in perpetual motion. The bonus of writing a perpetual motion piece for more than one piano is that one can pace the performers more, switching key perpetual elements between keyboards in order to ensure less fatigue and more interest for both performers.

I have currently sketched out a few of the stages, worked out the interplay between the duet-ing instruments and mapped a few things out in the first draft. I hope to complete the duet over the Christmas holidays, and will share some snippets as soon as possible!

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