Sunday, 10:30 am–12:00 pm
Connecting the Dots: Compositional Process in Elliott Carter’s Fourth String QuartetDeciphering the sketches for Elliott Carter’s Fourth String Quartet (1986) can be a daunting task. The sheer number of folios is a staggering 1117 pages, and the content is seemingly impenetrable; most of the material is devoted to morphological analysis of rhythmic patterns, interval structure, and pitch sets. Due to their intricate nature, some scholars have found the sketches to be counter-intuitive in retracing Carter’s compositional process, in that the repeated preparatory exercises often appear to have no direct relation to the final product. My examination indicates quite the opposite—the repetition of rhythmic patterns, beat divisions, and calculations is not only methodical, but necessary. I argue that by the time Carter finished sketching the rhythmic and harmonic processes, he had already conceived the entire quartet.
At first reading, the sketches appear to lack an intermediate compositional phase; Carter seemingly shifts from scattered dots to a final score. However, by focusing on the details of each folio—calculations of the pulse divisions, subtle changes in rhythmic alignments, and harmonic charts—I reveal a logical hierarchical system. After outlining the general long-range polyrhythmic structure of the quartet, Carter uses dots to map distinct characteristic rhythmic ostinati to each instrument. By superimposing the underlying pulsations of each part, he marks points of polyrhythmic alignment, and forms a higher-level composite rhythmic structure. Within a small subset of measures, Carter transforms this dot-notation into elaborate rhythmic figures that fit within the previously established framework of aligned pulses. With thoroughly-planned polyrhythmic details of the four instruments—their tempi, ratios, rhythmic relations, motives and cycles—Carter assigns unique intervallic restraints to each instrument. Lastly, Carter adds a general formal outline of the piece, descriptive character of instruments in certain sections, and the desired effects. He repeats these stages for each section of the piece.
Cyclic Dissonance in George Perle’s Triptych for Solo Violin and Piano
Most analyses of Perle’s music focus on compositional procedures associated with his twelve-tone tonality: labeling underlying cyclic arrays, identifying axis-dyad chords, and discussing the modulatory techniques from one array to the next. However, little attention has been given to Perle’s use of “dissonance” in these works. In this paper, I focus on Perle’s dissonant practice, especially his concept of “cyclic passing tones.” I begin with a brief review of twelve-tone tonality and demonstrate how dissonance functions within his compositional system. I then provide a historical overview Perle’s treatment of dissonance by tracing its development from his initial attempts to include “non-chord” tones, such as suspensions and anticipations, to his later practice of using cyclic passing tones. My talk concludes with an analysis of the second movement of Perle’s Triptych for Solo Violin and Piano (2002), one of his last compositions. With my analysis I will show that the interplay between the “consonant”, axis-dyad chords and the many dissonant figurations that saturate this movement exemplifies Perle’s sophisticated and mature understanding of dissonance in his twelve-tone tonal system.