Monday, February 24, 2014

Twelve-tone Rows, Of All Things!

Yesterday I butted into a conversation between two theory instructors, one of whom was complaining that his students could not identify the rows in a simple Schoenberg composition.

I resisted telling the following true story:

I used to do music in tandem with a 7th-grade math class at an inner-city school in New York.  I thought the kids would enjoy hearing a composition (Bagatelles for Harpsichord or Piano) which happens to use serial technique, written for me by my friend, the distinguished composer Ursula Mamlok.  I posed to the children the same question I posed to Ursula, the question which prompted the composition.  How would you write a meaningful prelude to the Suite in A minor by Henry Purcell?

One of the kids said right away, "Well, you certainly wouldn't start with A!"  Sure enough, A is the last tone of the row.