Music Composition: Characteristics of Contemporary Choral MusicTechniques

March 20, 2017 by Kevin Ure

Composers have been coming up with new and inventive ways to expand the realm of choral music for centuries. New instruments and techniques are constantly being developed, but many of these techniques fail to secure a lasting foothold and gain traction. Many techniques of the twentieth and twenty-first century incorporate additional dissonances to compose chord resolutions, chord successions, and chord progressions that are atypical of classical music before 1910. Composers continue to push the field of music composition forward with new sounds and music to keep audiences entertained, provide new music, and push the boundaries of what is possible in a composition.

Chord Construction

Traditional chords consist of varying arrangements of major, minor, augments and diminished thirds stacked on top of each other to create triads and seventh chords. Starting in the twentieth century, this began to change for composers. Composers that were trying to create new sounds and open up the ears of the listening public radically challenged the concept of a chord. Love him or hate him, composers like Arnold Schoenberg have conditioned our ears to make it acceptable to hear more dissonances and accept music that in the Classical period would be defined as noise. Composers today have a wealth of options at their disposal for creating new chords. Quartal harmony stacks chords based on intervals of fourths and fifths, instead of the thirds used in traditional music. Tone clusters that contain several tones spaced closely together and typically at dissonant intervals aim to create a specific mood with each new chord. Composers also regularly incorporate chords that have five or more pitches to create new and interesting chords.

Serialism and Twelve-Tone Technique

Arnold Schoenberg and his Second Viennese School are largely responsible for the creation of serialism. Far from setting out to destroy music in all it's forms, Arnold Schoenberg's first compositions were extremely tonal and almost indistinguishable from the works of other Romantic period composers. In a search for a way to secure the German music tradition for the "next 1000 years," Schoenberg searched for a way to present music in a new way. This reorganization resulted in what we now call serialism. In it's more severe and restricted form, the technique is called twelve-tone composition, where every note in a chromatic scale must be used once before it is repeated. Other less strict forms involve creating cells and sets of notes that are repeated at various transpositions and re-ordered to continually change the musical elements in a composition. The goal of serialism was to break off the pull of tonal music and open up the ear to hearing the frowned upon and less widely received dissonances of earlier classical music. Serialism challenged the concept of what was musically acceptable and opened our ears to the world of dissonance. Composers occasionally use serialism in their choral compositions to create elaborate new sounds.

Polytonality and Bitonality

Choral compositions that use polytonality rely upon the use of several different keys played simultaneously. A composer might choose to have a melody in the key of C major and harmony in the key of Ab minor. This juxtaposition of more than one key center makes it possible to create music that may follow some basic tenets of tonality, while still advancing the craft and creating modern, dissonant sounds. While this type of music can be difficult to sing well, college level and professional choirs should have no problem performing polytonal works. Bitonality is essentially the same thing as polytonality. However, with bitonality only two key centers are used in the composition. Igor Stravinsky and other twentieth century composers, like Charles Ives, were well known for incorporating these techniques in their musical compositions.

Advanced Counterpoint

Traditional counterpoint focuses on creating several independent musical lines that when played together also create harmony. This concept was taken to the extreme beginning in the twentieth century and resulted in many new methods of employing contrapuntal techniques. Many modern composers will invert a melody line and use it as the second line in a counterpoint, change the rules of counterpoint so that instead of using consonances, the rules are turned on their head resulting in dissonant counterpoint. Charles Seeger originally conceived of dissonant counterpoint as a classroom exercise to challenge and develop his students. However, the concept has been applied to modern compositions to create highly dissonant and innovative musical works. Some of the main differences between traditional counterpoint and dissonant counterpoint was the manner in which skips and leaps were resolved. In traditional counterpoint, skips and leaps must always be resolved in the opposite direction of the skip or leap. In dissonant counterpoint, if there is a consonant, the consonant may only be resolved by skip thereby making the composition even more dissonant.

No comments

Powered by Blogger.