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Composition Lessons with Aniolel


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Lesson 1

consider this

Polytonality has been used by several composers in the 20th century, some of these including: Bartok, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Milhaud, and other well known composers. The technique is employed when one plays in two keys at the same time. For instance, playing in C major and A major at the same time would be polytonality, as opposed to bitonality, which is when two different chords are played at the same time. However, both techniques work in harmony together.

Listen to the following excerpts:



here is the sheet music.

Danzas Argentinas

download "Scaramouche" here

Answer the following questions

1. What makes the use of polytonality in these pieces successful?

2. When does the composer make use of the polytonality?

3. How does the composer escape from polytonality back in to standard harmony?

4. Did the polytonality employ a more rhythmic scheme or more relaxed motives?

5. Are these two composers using the same chord progression in each key? (i.e. if he is using a I chord in C major, is he also using a I. in a Major?)

Homework 1

write a 16 - 32 measure waltz that employs polytonality. Remember, it doesn't have to be used all the time, but try to make it the main feature. Ideally you should post this up between 4 to 7 days. Good luck!

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Danzas Argentinas:

Albetro uses in polytonality by the establishing the two tonal centers, Db Major and C Major. His use of quartal harmonies doesn’t clash as much as if he used traditional harmonic functions: such as triads and 7th chords that would otherwise clash with the secondary tonal center. He escapes this clash by a brief moment in the same key. We can see in ms. 26-29 where the harmonies are in first tonal center. The polytonality suggested more pulsating motives. I feel if we’ve use polytonality that we have to slip into a more rythmnic music, like a dance.

Darius Milhaud:

Here we’ve a different style than Alberto. Mihaud uses polytonality in a different way. He goes in and out of traditional harmony. He ends on an agreement with the tonic in the same key. He uses two keys that don’t clash. I think they are C and E minor. (Correct me if I am wrong about that) These two keys don’t clash because they are related by a third. Still, there’s no sense of a relaxed motives in this composition. But Bartok did employ more relaxed motives in his music when he used this. He modulated a lot in this composition to drive into the consonance. This makes the use more subtle and not as obvious.


Both of these composers, I think, used different harmonies and the same harmonies. Darious and Alberto used same harmonies when they were in the same key. And different harmonies when they are in not in the same key.

I am new to this compositional methods, so forgive me and elaborate on what I miss.

here's the compositional homework. Being new to this i tried to incorporate what I noticed in those two pieces.

Crazy Waltz.pdf

I have included a midi file to go with it and a sib. file too.

Crazy Waltz.sib

Crazy Waltz.mid

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Very good. I find it's a pretty solid composition. If I were you, I would skip putting two different key signatures in the score and just use accidentals, I think, in the long run, that would make it easier for performers to read. Secondly, I would maybe try to be a bit more rhythmic with the bitonality, it seems to work best in that way, however, what you did certainly isn't it wrong, I would encourage you to try to make the chords a bit less regular. That would create freedom between the two different chords, and make a much bigger emphasis in the music in places where they are played with slower more regular rhythm.

Lesson 2

Consider this

In 1921 Schoenberg invented a new technique of composition that became significantly influenced many musicians. This technique, the 12-tone method, was created in order to emphasize all twelve tones in the well-tempered tuning system, rather than only emphasizing a key signature. Twelve tone compositions often have quite a bit of dissonance, but this depends on how your twelve tone row is made up. Twelve tone MATRIX are very important in this style of composition. It is the basis for the manipulation of music that is on the page. The matrix is made up of a single tone row that is then tranposed at on every one of the twelve tones (see example one).

tumblr_lcuw1al8nS1qzmlyxo1_500.jpg example 1

From example we can see a myriad of information. First of, we see P, I, RI, R. This are the building blocks of a twelve tone composition. P0, the prime form, is the original set of 12 intervals chosen. In the example above we can see that it's just the chromatic scale and is labeled by pitch, however normally it is easier and usually better to name it by number. C=0, C#/Db=1, etc. It is much easier to talk about pitches going 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 (or T and E for the last so as to not cause confusion), than always repeating letter notes. In any case, back to the above example, the second row contains the pitches for P11, or prime form 11, which is simply the prime form transposed down a second.

Next, we have on the opposite side the retrograte or R. This is simply the opposite of the prime form, as you can see it goes backwards 11, 10, 9, 8... etc. Other uses are the inversion, I[/b} and the retrograde inversion RI. All of these may be used when composing in the 12 tone style, and although there are other ways to create new rows in each set, such as combinatoriality, we will skip that for now and use the basic framework.

A few pointers on creating a matrix. It is usually preferred to make sure you intervals usually contain m2, M2, m7, M7, and m3. Try to avoid perfect fifths and perfect fourths. Secondly, when you create a chord from a tone row you must use the next portion number/tone of the row. So if you row was 1, 6, 4, 9; then a four note chord would consist of 1, 6, 4, 9 and nothing else. Thirdly, you may have two different rows going on at the same time, but it is best to keep them voiced seperately as they are two different parts to a whole, don't mix the two. You can, however, create a chord from say P1 in one instrument, and from I9 in another instrument to create, in the larger spectrum of the composition, a new chord.

Twelve tone technique influenced a myriad of composers. The main three were Schoenberg, the creator, and his two students Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Also in the mix: Arvo Part, Igor Stravinsky, John Adams at the earliest part of his career and others.

Listen to the following compositions

5 pieces for orchestra - Anton Webern

score for Webern

download Berg score here

(look for the composers name... etc)

questions to ask yourself

1. What is the first Row that Webern and Berg use in their composition (they aren't the same).

2. How does webern pair up his motives? Is he grouping them randomnly or is there a sense of unity in each motive.

3. Talk about the aspect of pointilism in webern? What do you think pointilism is? How does Webern use it effectively.

4. Talk to me about the Berg concerto. Does Berg ever break away from the twelve tone style? If so, where?

5. How does Webern erase any sense of meter in his 5 pieces?

6. Does Berg do the same? Is the meter very regular and easy to catch the beat? Why or why not?


compose a short 12 tone piece (2 to 3 mins) for string quartet. Label all the rows you've used in the composition and number the tones. Try to add an aspect of pointilism to parts of the piece. If you aren't sure what this is, let me know and I'll go into greater detail. Also, show me the 12 tone matrix you have generated for the piece. Try to make sure you still use form. Motives should still be unified and I still should hear form, (whatever type you decide to use) in the piece.

Good luck!

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Pointilism is created through registral displacement. As you'll see in the score for Webern, he spreads out his material through all registers and all instruments. In the case of a string quartet, for example, say you had an 8 note motive. Notes 1 - 3 could be in the violin at the very top part of it's register, 4-6, in the middle of the violas register, 5-7, could then play in the violins lower register, followed by notes 8 in the lowest part of the cellos register. Do you understand what I'm getting at?

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Comments about atonal variations:

1. Pointillism, to me, is like echoes; each part echoes at times. Other times it is like Webern, where the row is displaced.

2. I choose theme with a set of variations, for that form fitted the best, and it was easier for me.

3. Below i have attached the matrix which I used to for this composition.

A stangely dressed Man _matrix_.pdf

Please tell me what you think



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This is a good start. I think there are a few problems. First of all, lets look at the Cello part in all three movements. Repeatably, we see both B and C. This causes a problem with the twelvetone system. Why? Because we are weighting both the B and the C much more than the rest of the piece. The weighting will cause the listener to percieve the piece to be tonally centered on B. Notice that the C is acting like eighther a "re" to the "do" B, or a passing tone to b. This happens quite extensively in all of your variations. Look at variation 2, we have this same problem happening in the cello again, except this time it is weighting F and F#. Variation 3 does the same thing.

Secondly, let's look at some tone row issues. You say in the score that you are using P0. Is this true? According to your matrix the P0 is F - F#/Gb - C - C#/Db - E, etc, but your score is not following this. Sure you start with F to F# to C, but where does it go from there? I see a C to and E in the violin II, but this does not follow the PO you say you are starting with. Is this coming in early? What about the be to the c in the cello? Or the e to the c in the viola? None of this is following P0, are you using different rows? In any case, do you see my point? How do you expect to right an atonal/twelve tone piece if you don't follow the instructed rules?

Thirdly, we have some intervallic issues. Generally, we want to avoid major 3rds, perfect 4ths and perfect 5ths, etc. Why is this? Because it tends to be associated with common period harmony. If you want to have it, go ahead, but these generally should not meet on the horizontal plane. If you run into a situation where a chord makes this happen, then that can be okay, however generally these intervals want to be avoided. You have this issue especially present during the end of each variation.

Variation 3, is by far the most problematic.

I would like you to try again on this assignment.

Good luck!

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I started this in fugual manner, but slowly transformed into single non imatitive composition. The ending to me was the most interesting part to write, and there I used pointillism (which is true displacement of the theme). I didn't know what to do after after wards so I ended it on a less "happy" note. I hope this better.matrix.pdf

Without heads.mid

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  • 3 weeks later...


Minimalism is mostly famously used by Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley. In fact Terry Riley wrote what is considered the anthem of minimalism with IN C. This work will perfectly explain what minimalism is about: mainly phasing. Phasing happens when you displace a note slowly until it completes a full circle and arrives back to where it started. Let's examine IN C.

Terry Riley wrote this groundbreaking work in the 1950s. In the score gives any number of players (and instruments) 53 modules with different motives. Players are to start with the first motive and play it as many times as they wish and then move to the next module. The process repeats until all 53 modules are repeated and the last player decides to stop. The composition mainly contains phasing because players are allowed to enter modules freely, regardless where another person is. Thus player one might start module 2 a beat after player one.

here is an example.

Clapping Music is another good example. Written by Steve Reich, the piece has a rhythm that it repeated twelve times (by two or more people). The second player then shifts by an 8th note every 12th time. This continues until the piece as returns to were both players are the same rhythm again.


Write a minimalistic piece that phases correctly. The piece should phase and not really develop per se. The development will be the phasing. Good luck!

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