Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Theoretical Past Tense

I had an interesting experience the other day: I dug out an old piece I wrote about ten years back to re-learn it (I haven't played it in probably about six years), and I was so surprised by the musical content in it that I had to analyze it to figure out what on earth I was thinking when I wrote it. Turns out it's a pretty nifty little idea this tiny miniature is built around.


This is the very last of the Eighteen Axial Studies that I wrote, and it's unique in a couple of ways compared to the rest of them. This is a free-vioced piece that ranges from two to four parts (Three to five if you count the G-Axis as a voice, which I do not do), and all of the others are strictly two voices by my reconning. There are also only two sections to this study, while the rest have three sections.

But, the cool thing about this little ditty is the theoretical device that I used: I introduced secondary dominants in the A section, developed them into so-called Italian Augmented Sixths in the B section, and topped it all off with a doubly-augmented fourth augmented sixth sonority at the climax.

Since I have a jazz harmony background, I'm always thinking of the sonorities created by neighboring tones and whatnot, and I have included those in the analysis in parentheses. As you can see, the simple parallel thirds device of the first line creates some nice passing and neighboring sonorities, some of which are very dissonant and colorful.

In the second part of the phrase I introduced a simple series of secondary dominant sevenths, and this phrase gives me the impression that it has existed forever, and I just uncovered it. It really is quite nice in a simple but elegant kind of way.

At measure ten the B section begins, and as you can see I started using a series of secondary so-called Italian Sixth sonorities, which I have given functional analyses as the altered dominants that they actually are.

The ascending series of simple augmented sixths is capped off with a doubly-augmented fourth augmented sixth over a tonic pedal point in measure seventeen. I'm never exactly sure how to analyze this chord functionally because it usually proceeds to a second inversion tonic chord - which is usually just functioning as a suspended dominant sonority - so it really has a secondary dominant function. In this case, however, it gives the impression of being more akin to the primary dominant chord because of the tonic pedal in the bass. It's a super-cool effect in any case.


The reason I have not played this piece in so many years is because that last lick is very high up on the guitar's fretboard, and on a standard non-cutaway acoustic classical guitar it's very difficult to execute accurately. On the cutaway Godins, however, it's not too bad.


I managed to work another secondary dominant into measure nineteen, and since the A-natural is an open string, the dramatically wide voice separation is actually a cinch to play. I used a fully diminished seventh on the second degree - spelled enharmonically - to split the voices off smoothly from two back to three again, and this phrase too has a kind of universal inevitability to it, despite the deep theoretical device the section is built around. I just love it when I discover that pieces I wrote years back have some cool and interesting features to them.

What is it with the high-heel shoe fetish, anyway? I've never understood that. It just seems comical to have a woman in a bathing suit on a beach wearing heels, doesn't it?


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