Wild Garden, for String Quartet (Not Your Grandparents' 12​-​tone music II)

by David Victor Feldman

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Two diametric attitudes account for much of today's art music.

One faction feels that the intrinsic beauty and meaning of raw sound requires a nearly artless music; bending sounds into elements of a language would amount to disrespect. Were they gardeners, these composers might find that stones, as natural forms, serve as well as plants.

The opposite faction expects the composer to master a gamut of received languages and apply them eclectically in pursuit of emotional narratives. Were they gardeners, these composers might trim and shape plants into topiary, and arrange flowers to make fields of color and design.

Here I find myself taking a third way. My focus is on the configurations of tones (rather than the tones themselves) that one could very generally term melody and harmony. But my work centers on breeding new flowers (i.e. principles of melodic and harmonic organization), and then letting the garden grow wild (organic organization rather than narrative, gesture or any sort of imposed musical "form.")

A dedicated microtonalist for many years, I have focused this year on the traditional chromatic scale (in order to make music people, and not just computers, can play). The present work inaugurates a novel 12-tone system. Unlike Schoenberg's system, this music does not derive from any tone row(s). Rather the "key" consists of a non-linear configuration of the 12 tones - so picture 12 cities connected by highways, three entering and leaving each city. The music temporally unfolds this underlying structure which in itself exists outside of time. The city-highway structure offers enough flexibility already that the usual transposition and inversion need play no role. So particular tones have particular tendencies, as in tonal music, but chromatic saturation reigns, as in serial music.

Rather than a single city-highway "key," here five contrasting keys provide the ear with suitably subtle shifts of intervallic color.


released August 8, 2015


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