I work with very few elements — with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials — with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.
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The minimalist tendency to use limited harmonies and repeated rhythmic figures is also present in his work. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises- and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this… The three notes of a triad are like bells. An that is why I call it tintinnabulation. It continues to arpeggiate a sequence of chords and, depending on the meter of the measure, some of the chords are left out.
The use of addative rhythm is a central component to the structure of the piece. The different rhythmic figures and subtle variations in harmonies allow for the piece to maintain the forward momentum and engage the listener without having the material seem redundant and overstated.
The piece is tonally centered around the pitch A. The four horizontal melodic lines emphasized by the arched shapes of the arpeggios seem to be moving on different modal scales. The bottom voice later becomes the high voice in the piano part of the following variation at measure 9 although it is not aurally percievable.
While the top voice during the arppegiated first pages creates a drone on the pitches A and E, the bottom voice moves in mostly a step-wise motion on a d harmonic minor scale. The melodic contour of the piece is tonally focused on the pitch A but plays between the D harmonic minor and D natural minor scales starting from A the fifth scale degree of D minor. A major chord is the dominant of d minor with the C borrowed from the harmonic minor of d. This is then repeated in the following measure and this two-measure figure is repeated throughout the piece a total of eight times.
At measure nine the violin and the left hand of the piano part both drone on the same pitches A and E while the piano moves slowly through the chords based on a d harmonic minor mode.
At measure 17 the violin reintroduces an arpeggiated figure but this time with sixteenth notes instead of the 64th notes in triplets at the beginning. While the piano maintains the pedal A in the left hand, the violin part goes through various arpeggios, which highlight subtly different harmonies but still stay within the outlined D harmonic and natural minor scales that focus of the pitch A.
The slight tonal shift between the two modes creates a melodic contrast the relationship between the C naturals and C obscuring the sense of tonal center. The form of the piece is based on eight variations of the initial material. After one cycle of each variation, what follows is a variation where the top and bottom voices are the exact retrograde of the initial variation.
The use of this technique throughout this piece beautifully complements the thematic content because it offers a subtle variation to the same material. While the retrograde is not aurally perceivable to the listener, it offers a sense of continuity while not seeming repetitive or trite.
Shifting between slow legato chords and pedal notes and fast arpeggiated figures helps create a sense of contrast. The polymetric structure offers a strong sense of pulse but aurally obscures the downbeat. The switch 64th notes, 16th notes, 8th notes and the longer quarter and half notes that consist of most of the piano part, along with the switch between a triplet feel such as at measure 30 and an 8th note feel, also offer a sense of contrast.
Harmonic contrast is offered by moving the second hexachord up or down an octave measure 11 moved up, measure 14 moved down as well as the general re-voicing of chords and pitch collections. The chant inspired quality and bell-like characteristic that he searched for in his work offers a beautiful placid tone, which is then contrasted by fast arpeggios and intensity.
While the harmonic structure of the piece is limited and mostly unchanging, the use of various rhythmic figures, polymetric changes, retrogade melodies, and re-voiced chords offer enough deviation from the initial material and keeps the audience engaged for the entire twelve minutes. The fact that it has been arranged for so many different instrumentations gives the piece a sort of ethereal quality that is also felt by the mood created in the piece.
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Fratres (for violin and piano)