Sunday, February 27, 2011


As with many composers of my generation, the first sentence of Vincent Persichetti's Twentieth Century Harmony has stuck with me over the years:
ANY TONE can succeed any other tone, any tone can sound simultaneously with any other tone or tones, and any group of tones can be followed by any other group of tones, just as any degree of tension or nuance can occur in any medium under any kind of stress or duration. 
'Tone' is itself a limiting term. I think it means some sort of pitched musical event, even a relatively stable pitched musical event with a more-or-less clearly demarcated beginning and ending. Such a limitation might be reasonable in a book on harmony, 'harmony' itself a charming notion, something to the effect that such overlapping tone-events cleave and become something greater than themselves, like a damp shirt clinging to a freshly minted bosom, something that propels the drama forward, that functions in a non-Aristotelian manner, in a musical context, rather than pitches that happen to pass by each other, maybe or maybe not interacting, maybe functioning or maybe not, maybe carrying an emotional weight, but maybe an emotional weight that exists only in ironic reference to some past meeting, some subconsciously remembered sentimental moment from some tearjerking potboiler.

When I was young, I thought that the above should be rewritten in terms of 'sound' rather than 'tone,' but, as with infinities, adding sound to sound results merely in sound, gestalts accreting other gestalts to become bigger gestalts, and at some point aren't we simply saying 'do what thou wilt is the whole of the law' which is to say, nothing at all?

But the sentence that follows clears up this particular difficulty:
Successful projection will depend upon the contextual and formal conditions that prevail, and upon the skill and the soul of the composer.
to which I might add the requirement of a having a good public relations firm, who can develop a clear and easily presented summarizing pitch, plus a level of attractiveness, physical and spiritual. 

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