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Monarcheon

Masterclass: THEORY 301 - Messiaen

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Masterclass #2:
Olivier Messiaen - Compositional Techniques
Instructor: @Luis Hernández


Instructors should file the following information:
Students Allowing: 
Initial Writing Requirement: 
Initial Writing Requirement Deadline: 
Composition Guidelines:

 

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Thanks for trusting me.

I think we will focus on the melodic and harmonic parts (Modes of limited transposition, intervals, chords), leaving the rhythmic devices for other time.

Please let me some time to prepare the guideline... Next Monday will be all upload.

Cheers!

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MASTERCLASS – MESSIAEN

In this class, we are going to deal with new systems of organizing the pitch material for composing.

 MELODY: MODES OF LIMITED TRANSPOSITION

·            Messiaen developed a series of modes that can be transported a limited number of times. If we transpose the scale of the mode one semitone upwards, and so on, there is a moment when the pitches are enharmonic to a previous transposition.

·            They are limited because the modes are transpositionally simmetrical. By contrast, the diatonic collection, transpositionally asymmetrical, exists in an unlimited number of transposition, to all twelve chromatic degrees withouth reproducing itself

·            Messiaen’s modes represent more of a harmonic resource than a melodic resource. He claimed, “People have often referred to my modes of limited transposition as scales. They are not scales, but harmonic colors.” Messiaen did sometimes use the modes in a strictly melodic (i.e., monophonic, or unharmonized) manner, but only rarely after his early works. He almost always presented his modes chordally, presumably to take advantage of their particular colorations; only by presenting notes of a mode simultaneously could a coloration emerge.

·            According to Messiaen, these modes are at once in the atmosphere of several tonalities, without polytonality, the composer being free to give predominance to one of the tonalities or to leave the tonal impression unsettled. He stated that, with them, the composer can choose to emphasize any harmonic structures within the mode; you can be as consonant or as dissonant, as tonal or as non-tonal as you like.

 

·            The first mode is the whole-tone scale, used by Debussy, Dukas, etc. Transposable two times.

·            The second mode was used by Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Ravel and Stravinsky. This octatonic mode is related to the chord of diminished seventh. Transposable three times.

·            The third mode is transposable four times, as is the chords ot the augmented fifth. Messiaen used it many times, as Toru Takemitsu.

·            Modes 4, 5, 6 and 7 were less interesting to Messiaen because they are transposable six times.

Modes.jpg.f8dae1586811c80dff4ae20c86e7b4b5.jpg

MELODY: COMPOSING WITH INTERVALS

·            In this case the composer organizes a set of pitches, and uses it as raw composing material: the number of pitches is variable, and the intervals between them will give the general mood. Let’s say we build a set of four pitches. The result shoud be quite different if they are major thirds  and a semitone (M3, M3, m2) = C – E – G# - A; than if we use seconds and tritones (M2, TT, M2)= C – F# – G#. So, depending on the intervals we can “manipulate” one factor in our music to make it softer, harder, more or less tonal…

·            There are several nomenclatures for this system but an extensive exposition of the Set Theory is beyond our goal.

·            We can do several things with a set of pitches: transposition to any pitch, retrogradation, inversion, rotation (instead of M2, TT, M2, we would use TT, M2, M2, splitting in octaves, and the combination of all of them. Of course, taking the set as a base, we can add intervals, or use the set partially.

 

HARMONY IN THE MODES OF LIMITED TRANSPOSITION

·            Messiaen also said that chords should be made with notes of the mode. Some modes offers more posibilitties than others.

·            Mode 1 is harmonically poorer.

·            Modes like 2 give many different chords, using enharmonics. Let’s take Mode 2: C – Db –Eb – E – F# - G – A – Bb

o   Triadic chords: C, C7, C#min(b5), Eb, Eb7, Am, etc..

o   Quartal chords: C – F# - Bb,  Db – G – C

o   Quintal chords: C – G – Db,  E – Bb – F#

o   Chords by seconds

o   Hybrid chords: Am/Db, Eb/F#

o   Etc… Every combination of pitches can be a chord

·            We should have in mind that in this language funtional relationships in harmony are no longer the same than in tonal harmony.

·            Developing Harmony in Messiaen’s style isn’t different from the classic period, but using the pitches of the mode we are using. That is to say: melody in several voices, single melodic line and harmonization.

 

HARMONY: MESSIAEN NEW CHORDS

Messiaen also invented new chords: chord on the dominant, chord on the dominant with apoggiaturas, chord with transposed inversions, chord of resonance, chord with contracted resonance, chord in fourths, turning chord, and chord of total cromaticism.

All these chords fit in one or another mode, but they can be used as chords by themselves in any background.

Finally, be must bear in mind that we will often find combination of modes. Of course in the development of a piece there can be more tan one mode in an horizontal direction. But also we can use a mode for the melody and a different one for the harmony (Messiaen used even three modes at a time, in a sort of polymodality).

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION – NON TERTIAN HARMONY.. AND MORE

In the 20th century there was a search for alternative harmonic systems. Tonal music had been centered in tertian harmony for centuries. Avoiding 4ths and 5ths in harmonization was a “rule” partly for their implication in “destroying” the individuality of counterpoint voices. Since the new music systems don’t use functional progressions nor florid counterpoint, 4ths, 5ths, even harmony by 2nds were welcome.

·            Quartal harmony is the building of chords with intervals of the 4th. In contemporary music the intervals can be perfecto r augmented 4ths (diminished 4th is enharmonic to the major 3rd). So we can built quartal harmonies as follows: D – G – C  /   C – G – C#   / D – G# - C – F#, etc… Quartal harmony gives an impression of closeness, but as these chords lack of thirds (major/minor) they can harmonize a large variety of melodic elements.

·            Quintal harmony is the building of chords with intervals of the 5th. Augmented or diminished intervals are possible, too. This kind of harmony allows many melodic figures, and the impression it gives is that of openness.

·            Harmony by seconds uses combination of intervals of major/minor 2nds. Using three pitches in seconds and doubling the “most important” for the composer an octave below gives a beautiful sound. The extensión of harmony by seconds leads to cluster harmony.

·            All these chords can be combined in every way: between them and with other kind of harmonies. For example, it’s not unusual to see a quartal progression which ends in a quintal chord (as part of the cadence).

·            Once functional harmony is not necessary a very often technique is chord planing, which means using identical chords in progression: Cmaj7 – Amaj7 – Bbmaj7 – Dmaj7…., or G7sus – Eb7sus – A7sus…

·            Harmonic stasis: another technique used by these composers which consist in chord progressions with the minimal movement in the voices.

 

A couple more of contemporary techniques: 

·            We are not in a tonal environment. Can we affirm a tonal center? Yes. Suppose you are using Mode 1 (whole tone scale) = C – D – E – Gb - Ab - Bb…. If you put a Bb in the pedal for several measures, you will give the sense of Bb as center (which you can change when necessary).

·            What about cadences? We don’t use here dominant-tonic movements. So, to write effective cadences: a) use silences or long/repeated notes, b) use in the melody a semitone movement (similar to sensible-tonic), c) change the rhythm: if you are going fast, change to slow…, if it’s slow then accelerate.

EXAMPLE: “Abîme des Oiseaux” 

This part of the Quartet for the End of Times is for Clarinet solo in Bb, note that it is transposed a M2 up.

In the first part Messiaen uses the mode 2.

In the sixth line there is a change: no scale is used. Instead, a interval set major 2nd - major 3rd - perfect 4th, with variation and additions is used.

Abime.thumb.jpg.06e1cb7de89d00e79de82945c4f65dd8.jpg

 

RECAP

Melody:

·            Modes of limited transposition: stick to the notes of the mode

·            Interval set defined by the composer

·            When using a scale is good to define it soon in the melody: make all the notes of the scale sound.

·            In this style counterpoint is not preferred, but can be used. Melody alone or melody in several parallel voices.

Harmony:

·            Build any kind of chord and voicing using the same notes of the mode in the melody

·            Melody by interval set can be harmonized using a mode, too

·            Messiaen’s new chord can also be taken, but they’r not necessary to define the mode

·            Bi- or polymodality is possible

  

FURTHER READING
 

O. Messiaen: The technique of my musical language

Modes of limited transposition and special chords: http://www.geocities.ws/jeharris56/chapter05.pdf

 

Students Allowing: 7
Initial Writing Requirement: our goal is to compose effective pieces with different melodic and harmonic systems compared to classic tonal period

 Two Works:

a) 16-24 bars, only melody with any instrument solo. Use a mode or an interval set. Have in mind the possibilities of the instrument: range, dynamics.

b) 16-24 bars, piano solo or melodic instrument + piano solo. Focus on harmonization with chords built with pitches from the mode you want to develop.

Initial Writing Requirement Deadline: March 29

  

POST COMPOSITIONS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW WHEN FINISHED.

 ADD AN AUDIO FILE IF YOU WANT

COMMENT SHORTLY ON THE ORGANIZATION OF YOUR PIECES.

 

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Posted (edited)

Hi Luis,

It sounds very interesting to me!
I would like to join the masterclass.

I will combine my knowledge of the Cello Masterclass with this assignment.

Maarten

 

Edited by Maarten Bauer

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Very interesting; I'd like to join as well. Thanks, Luis.

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Great! 

Waiting for your works Maarten and Noah. There is time...

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Posted (edited)

Hi Luis,

I have finished my two exercises. 
In both pieces I stated a theme and developed it in various ways.

  • Messiaen Exercise Solo Cello

For this piece I used the second mode (untransposed) = octatonic. Because the Cello is able to play more than one note at the same time, I used a few chords, which are built with the mode's notes. I have experimented with perfect consonances as harmonic intervals. Not as important as the structure in this assignment, but I hope that the Cello part is playable.

  • Messiaen Exercise Piano

The mode I used in this piece is the first mode (untransposed) = whole tone scale. I wanted to create great contrasts between f(f) and p(p), but I also wanted to have a clear structure. I therefore gave the left hand a more accompanient and the right hand a more melodic role.

Hopefully, you have some valuable feedback for me!

M.Bauer - Messiaen Exercise Solo Cello.pdf

M.Bauer - Messiaen Exercise Piano.pdf

Maarten

Edited by Maarten Bauer
PDF

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I will likely have mine completed within the next two or three days. The deadline is next week, right? 

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@Maarten Bauer

Sorry, I can't open the pdf files. I've tried different browsers and two computers.

I don´t know where the problem is. It happens not only with your pdf's (in the forum).

Please, can you send them by email: pistolilla@gmail.com

 

There is time until March 29.

Thanks.

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4 hours ago, Luis Hernández said:

@Maarten Bauer

Sorry, I can't open the pdf files. I've tried different browsers and two computers.

I don´t know where the problem is. It happens not only with your pdf's (in the forum).

Please, can you send them by email: pistolilla@gmail.com

 

There is time until March 29.

Thanks.

 

Oh, that's weird.

What do you mean with ''It happens not only with your pdf's (in the forum).''?
For me the mp3s do work, but I cannot open the pdf files either.

M.Bauer - Messiaen Exercise Solo Cello.pdf

M.Bauer - Messiaen Exercise Piano.pdf

Can you open them now?

Maarten

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Yes, I can open them this way.

Exactly: the mp3 files work fine.

Embedded pdf files don't work.

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@Maarten Bauer

SOLO CELLO

The mode 2 is perfectly defined. In fact the first 8 notes we can hear are all the notes of the mode.

Melody: very nice, you use the high and low register, and the middle one mostly. Good to hear parts eith leaps and others with softer movement. Also the dynamic treatment is expressive. There are some motives that give coherence to the piece:

58d15845394d2_Capturadepantalla2017-03-21alas17_43_31.jpg.6f76c18d09545c94edc5bb9c4e66feb9.jpg

Of course there are variants on them. The first one is seen a couple of times in inversion (m. 2 and m. 15). The other one shows no big variation. 

There are two parts:

M 1-7

M. 8-14 

The cadence in m.6-7 is very effective because of the total change in the rhythm, the texture (chordal) and the contrast in dynamics (sf – p).

In  m. 10 a sort of half-cadence can be considered, by means of the rest and the semitone movement (F#-G).

The final cadence is also effective by means of the unexpected high note, but, mostly, because there is a sort of tonal resolution (G in m.16 and C in m.17).

 In fact, it seems you have organized the piece in two tonal areas, beginning in C, followed by a section in G, and ending in C. Of course, we cannot see it the same way we analyze tonal music, but this is what Messiaen wanted to show when saying the modes of limited transposition can be as tonal or as atonal as the composer wants. Think that you could have avoid those pedals son G, and the result would have been different. 

Regarding the writing for the cello, I can’t say nothing of value. But I have some doubts with m. 9, m.12, and m.13… If the G is supposed to be the open string,, is it possible to play the following notes (on the same string)??

 Suggestions:

1.         When you write for a solo instrument, and using these modes, it’s good to change the motives, to work more on them. I mean: there are a couple of inversions of one motive, but you can write them in retrogradation, inversion+retrogradation, augmentation, etc…., and even fragmentation. Added values are also possible (I hope there'll be occasion to see the rhythmic devices in Messiaen).

2.         M. 8-13: to make the part more interesting, I would have transposed some measures. m. 8 = m. 10 = m. 11 (first part).

3.         Since you begin in high register, if you wanted to put a climax, you could reinforce the low E (in m. 14) which is the lowest one, as an “anticlímax”: For example, making the note longer / louder.

In general, I think it’s a very good example of solo developing mode 2. In fact, it could be the seed of a longer piece . Many times, composers like Messiaen or even Debussy use done mode in parts A and a different one in parts B, for example.

  

PIANO

You have chosen a difficult mode for a polyphonic composition. Mode 1 has only 6 pitches and getting a rich harmony algong a whoe piece is difficult.

The general mood is more Debussy than Messiaen, not surprising if we have in mind that Debussy used mode 1 gently and Messiaen didn’t. 

You’ve got here a distinct mode 1 sound. It is perfectly drawn and the variation is in the changing textures, on one hand, and in the two contrasting parts (m.9 – m. 10). 

The harmony you built is very good. Parallelisms everywhere, but never the same. 

Suggestions:

Your tonal center is C, in some spots it is changed to F#.

Let’s remember that form many composers in the first part 20th century, pitches a tritone apart are “equivalent”. That is to say, during the whole piece you stay in a sort of “the same” central tone.

To my taste, sometimes, there is an overused of the C, in some chords it appears 4 times: m. 7, m. 12… an in the ending it’s  everywhere, as insisting  on it. Perhaps this is not the case, but it’s not unusual trying to stay in a safe zone, that means: establishing a central tone again and again.

How can this be changed? You can “force” to sound an additional pitch as a center, even coexisting with the one you have (C). The piano and the sustain pedal allows you to do it. For example, let’s start in m. 8. Instead of the chord C-G#-G, write a profound note, a D, letting it sound for two measures (because of the pedal), after this D, you can write the chord C-G#-C (or C-G#) in a white dotted note.

In measure 10 you can do the same, writing the same D or other note (E, for example).  “Playing” this game you make sound different tonal centers that, finally, resolve in the original one: C. Besides, you can create more than a harmonic layer.

On the other hand, what you did is not bad, but with techniques like this your harmony can be much reacher, particularly in this mode, with a few notes.

 

I would make a recommendation: listen to (and see the score) Voiles, by Debussy. In many parts (as in the beginning) he uses the hexatonic mode 1 scale. See how he insists and insists on the low Bb. This low note sounds during ALL the piece, as a tone center…. But in the very last three measures (and only) he changes the center to F# (amazing).

58d159281ea95_Capturadepantalla2017-03-21alas17_05_02.jpg.2fddb5d75e39a6712275f3b88398e75c.jpg

 

Actually, everything I said are just observations and suggestions, because you did great work. I think the most important is to create efficient distinctly "different" music. I hope you go on exploring...

Greetings.

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Posted (edited)

Hi @Luis Hernández,

Thank you for your amazing feedback and suggestions! 
I have some questions about your feedback to be sure I completely understand your points.

SOLO CELLO

  • ''When you write for a solo instrument, and using these modes, it’s good to change the motives, to work more on them.''

Do you mean that I should develop my stated material (motive(s)) in more different ways?

PIANO

  • ''Let’s remenber that form many composers in the first part 20th century, pitches a tritone apart are “equivalent”. That is to say, during the whole piece you stay in a sort of “the same” central tone.''

What do you mean with ''pitches a tritone apart are ''equivalent?'' What is the relationship between central tone and these pitches and tritone?

  • ''But it’s not unusual trying to stay in a safe zone, that means: establishing a central tone again and again.''

Do I have to stay in a safe zone or not at all?

 

I feel so lucky that I have the ability to learn new techniques from other composers!

Maarten

Edited by Maarten Bauer

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@Maarten Bauer

Manipulation   of motives is a tool in, I would say, almost every musical language. In a single melodic line this is perhaps more important. What you wrote is good, although it has the potential of this tool.

I was thinking in Bartok's axis theory. According to him the tonic area in C is not only C but also chords on F#, on A and on Eb. They are tritone relationships and with the minor  relatives C-A ,  A-F#, Eb-C.

The fact of staying in a tonal center or not is not bad not good, it is something you can control. I you want to give an impresión of stability, keep the same tonal center. If you want to make the harmony more active and complexión, change them. Or, what Debussy does in Voiles: the same center all the time but in the end, it is a surprising resource.

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1 minute ago, Luis Hernández said:

@Maarten Bauer

Manipulation   of motives is a tool in, I would say, almost every musical language. In a single melodic line this is perhaps more important. What you wrote is good, although it has the potential of this tool.

I was thinking in Bartok's axis theory. According to him the tonic area in C is not only C but also chords on F#, on A and on Eb. They are tritone relationships and with the minor  relatives C-A ,  A-F#, Eb-C.

The fact of staying in a tonal center or not is not bad not good, it is something you can control. I you santa to vive an impresión of stability, keep the same tonal center. If you want to mate the harmony more active and complexión, change them. Or, what Debussy does in Voiles: the same center all the time but in the end, it is a surprising resource.

 

Thank you! Now it is clear!

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Hi Luis (and Monarcheon),

Sorry my assignment is late. I hope you could still take a look at it. 

I'm not sure that I completely understood the instructions, but it was refreshing just to use these modes to find new chord possibilities. Some of my chords might not make total sense, but I thought they sounded good when I arpeggiated them on my guitar.

Thanks for doing this! I hope there are more Masterclasses in the future that deal with 20th Century composition techniques. That kind of thing has been hard for me to find online.

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@Noah Brode

It's OK. I couldn't open the pdf in the post... But I got the email. By the way, when you upload a pdf file, if you pick the + sign, the pdf is inserted in the post and works...

I know that Messiaen is "too big" to get his theory in a post, but I think the idea is working with different scales and building harmonic systems different from major / minor.

Mode 2 is very "rich" for melodies. You've done it quite well. The motif is beautiful because of the rhythmic figures. The scale is fully presented in the first measures, which is good, more important for solo melodies. You've worked it mostly with transpositions and some inversions. And, although the whole scale is used, the impression is rather tonal. That's what Messiaen said, you can use these modes in a wide range from tonal to atonal. In fact, there is a constant center: C. Some fragments sound cadential (m. 5-6 ending in Db...), going finally to C. Of course this nice motif could be fully developed (inversions, rotations, etc...). These are tools that those composers used. But the result is coherent, sounding like a folk scale, very expressive and intense. Nothing to object. Just that there are almost opposite ways to use this mode (not so tonal).

 

Mode 3. In this case, the result is more contemporary. You've managed very well harmonizing the melody with the same mode. There are more contrasting motives in the melody, with nice transpositions downwards. The effect in m. 27-29 is great. Notice how the final chord is a Cm(maj7).... It's fine to combine non tonal elements and triadic chords. On the other hand the use of dissonance ("color", said Messiaen) is good: for example m. 29 (F#, Ab, C, D...).In summary your way was the one based a little bit on the classic development of the melody. The result is licit, of course. Perhaps in a course on contemporary techniques you would be asked to stay away from  the "tonal" mood. As you mentioned, there is a lot of contemporary techniques that can be used to sound more or less classic....

One way to make the harmony richer and sound less tonal is, as I told Maarten Bauer, to add deep notes (as pedal notes) in the piano. Notes of the scale, of course, but different from what is sounding up above. So, you create two layers of tone centers.

 

 

 

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Thanks, Luis. I could definitely feel myself being pulled toward writing something tonal, particularly in the first exercise (second mode). You're right, it did feel like an exotic folk scale, but definitely one with colors that I hadn't really explored before. Once I started writing the second exercise, I began to fully grasp why they're called modes of limited transposition. This whole Masterclass has been really excellent, and I'd gladly take any others you might offer. (Hopefully, my assignments will start being on time)

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