Friday, April 21, 2006

The 2006 Delian Games: "In the Witch's Head"

The Delian Society, a group of contemporary tonal composers of which I am a member, is currently holding the 2006 Delian Games; a friendly composition non-contest. This year's theme is Ghost Stories, or otherwise "scary" music, and this post is about my entry. Entrants - calling us contestants would not really reflect the spirit of The Games - are to submit: 1) An MP3 of their piece of music, 2) a PDF file of the score, 3) A JPG image to go along with the music, 4) a PDF file of a description of the piece, 5) a JPG picture of the composer, and finally 6) A link to where this can all be found. Though everything concerning my entry will be presented in this post, the source files can be downloaded at my File Share page here.


The Witch Head Nebula.


In the Witch's Head is a five-voice perpetual canon at the octave for string choir. Since it is a piece of absolute music, there really are no overtly or covertly programatic elements present in the piece. Rather, it was the musical result of the work which inspired certain associations, and those in turn lead to the title.

Originally, this piece was to be a five-voice fugue for orchestra with a five-measure subject composed in canonic stretto at one measure of delay. While composing said stretto, I noticed that the head of the subject would also work in stretto at a half-measure of delay, and that if I made the chromatic mid-section of the subject diatonic, that would work at a half-measure of delay as well. Eliminating the tail figure then gave me a second closer stretto of a varied and truncated form of the subject. Finally, I noticed that if I used this modified form of the subject in augmentation - thereby making the stretto's delay an entire measure again - the original and varied augmented forms of the subject would dovetail perfectly while maintaining technically correct counterpoint. This dovetail worked with either the original or modified augmented form appearing first, and so the five-voice perpetual canon was born.

Due to the fact that I employed a deceptive resolution to the major seventh chord residing on the minor sixth degree of the minor key of the piece with the varied augmented form, and because I allowed for inversions of that major seventh in which the root was above the seventh, highly dissonant harmonic structures were produced via the resulting minor ninth intervals. This lead to an interesting effect wherein the chords of resolution were more dissonant than the preceding dominant function chords. Coupled with the chromatic elements in the original form of the subject, this lead to the music creating a very uneasy effect that I could only describe as "creepy" or "diabolical." I liked the effect so much that after writing a conclusion for the canon, I decided against going ahead with writing it out as a fugue: The perpetual canon said all that needed to be said about the subject and its variant in it's brief two minutes of stage time.

While pondering whether or not it would be worthwhile to orchestrate such a brief piece, the Delian Society decided that for its 2006 suite of music composed by members, the theme would be ghost stories or more generally "scary" music. Quite independent of this in one of my non-musical interests, astrophysics, I came across a series of haunting images of the Witch Head Nebula. That was it: The perpetual canon and the images of the Witch Head Nebula went together perfectly, and that all fit in with the theme of the 2006 Delian Suite.

The title In the Witch's Head has more than one level of meaning, as it can be thought of as being inside the mind and thoughts of a witch, or traveling in a ship within the aforementioned Witch Head Nebula, or even - if your taste runs toward the ribald in humor, as mine does - making use of the water closet on a ship named The Witch. I'll leave any further ass-ociations to your imagination.

As is the case with many of my favorite compositions, In the Witch's Head was arrived at by my stumbling blithely through a series of happy accidents.


An MP3 of In the Witch's Head is available for download here.




Now that's what I call a witch!


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