Wednesday 7 January 2009

A Portly Chord Courtesy of Berio

This chord appears at the end of Berio's 1954 piece 'Nones.'

It's quite heavy and caught my ear. Below I have included the relevant score fragment and a quickly thrown together graphic PC set analysis (it might look like I drew it in pencil crayon, but actually they are watercolour crayons I'll have you know and I would use them like that by brushing on some water if I had some thicker paper and/or more time/will power).

I am a long way from being any sort of analyst but one thing is clear from a cursory look at the thing, all pitches are present except for G (or 7 if you prefer).

B (11) is the most prevalent pitch appearing five times at the bottom end of the texture, in the contrabassoon, the tuba, the timpani, the cello and the double bass.

The woodwind PC set and the brass PC set look quite similar at first glance, I think they are transposed inversions of each other, give or take a pitch or two. The string pitches look like a subset of the same PC set (three of four pitches fit that scheme)

I'll have to look more closely at it and will probably edit this a bit later if i'm wrong about any of this (so no one will know unless you happen to check my blog in the meantime, in which case, don't tell anyone I wasn't absolutely certain from the off, I don't want to be blackballed at the Music Theory and Analysis Society of Balsall Heath, the dinner and dance evenings are just too good to miss plus there is bingo on a Sunday).

EDIT: Alright, I looked at it more closely, yes, the two sets used in the woodwind and the brass are the same set, 6-Z11 and the strings appear to contain a subset of the same. This helps provide some structure and sense to the dense chromatic harmony.

Of course much remains unanalysed, such as the precise registers (pitches not pitch classes) and the intervals used (in vertical order), but then as I said, I am not an analyst (so sue me, oh and I claim fair use of the tiny score and music fragments, please don't sue me about that)

The score fragment doesn't have the instruments or clefs listed (I should have photoshopped them in when I prepared the image, never mind) here they are...

Instruments as written in the score (top to bottom)


Fag. (bass clef)
C.Fag (bass clef)


Trbn (bass clef)
Trbn (bass clef)
Tuba (bass clef)


Timp (bass clef)
Arpa (two staves, treble and bass)


Vni A
Vni B
Vni C
Vle (alto/viola clef)
Vc (bass clef)
Cb. (bass clef)


tom said...

I think your analysis is incomplete until you explain how/why the structures you describe contribute to the phat-ness of the chord in a way that is interesting or different from merely throwing together a bunch of random notes.

E.L. said...

Well firstly, i'm not an analyst nor am I looking at this chord in any formal or academic way, just for 'kicks.'

Secondly, some of the 'rightness' of the chord has been demonstrated (that matters, see below), the three main sections of the orchestra are playing pitches from the same basic set, this creates a sort of unity (the gestalt being a sectional one, the ear hearing the woodwinds, brass and strings a distinct units if you like).

The 'phat-ness' of which you speak is partly a product of this aspect, but also the registers of the instruments (all those instrumetns in the low register playing B for instance, that anchors the chord, which I mentioned in the post).

The complexity of the sound is partly generated by the presence of all the chromatic pitches (minus G/7). The main thing I haven't done is put the pitches in order from low to high and catalogued the various vertical intervals, I would do that if this were a 'proper' analysis (but it isn't so I won't).

So you see most of the 'phat-ness' has been accounted for, you just have to unpack it a bit (it is only a blog post after all).

100hands said...

Thankyou for putting up the Takemitsu documentary.
It was brilliant.
Your blog is now on my everyday list.

E.L. said...

100hands: Glad you liked the docu and the blog, thanks very much for the comment.