Saturday, 10:30 am–12:00 pm

Exploring Pitch in Ligeti and Haas

Chair: Yayoi Uno Everett (Emory University)

  • Ligeti, Foucault, and Derrida’s Concept of the Supplement: An Approach to Pitch Structure in Ligeti’s Etude No. 6, “Automne à Varsovie”
    Calvin Peck (Indiana University)
  • Clashing Harmonic Systems in Haas’s Blumenstück and in vain
    Robert Hasegawa (McGill University)
  • Program

    Ligeti, Foucault, and Derrida’s Concept of the Supplement: An Approach to Pitch Structure in Ligeti’s Etude No. 6, “Automne à Varsovie”

    Analysts, as well as György Ligeti himself, have described the pitch material in the composer’s piano etudes as tonality, modality, polytonality, non-atonality, nontonal diatonicism, etc. (Searby 1999, Szigeti 1984, Szitha 1992). Despite the prevalence of triads in the piano etudes, the dense chromatic polyphony in the sixth is resistant to analytical approaches founded upon such terminology. Current analytical methods using pitch set-class theory and transformational theory could inform the linear and vertical relationships that highlight the occurrence of the triads. Unfortunately, these approaches to post-tonal music are unable to define such relationships as hierarchically structural. This shortcoming becomes problematic when every musical feature appears to signify the triads as important. While most of the pitch material in the etude seems lost in a sense of disorder, many harmonies stand out as especially marked, projecting what seems to be an emphasized formal role.

    The objective of this presentation is to create a formal analytic method that can logically view triads as hierarchically structural. The method will not focus on triads per se, but rather on sonorities that appear emphasized within their musical context. This essay will not set out to critique current post-tonal theories. It will rather interpret the processes through which analytical meaning is derived using ideas developed in critical theory, in particular ideas by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. The new analytical method will then be able to interpret multiple levels of hierarchical structure in the sixth etude.


    Clashing Harmonic Systems in Haas’s Blumenstück and in vain

    Georg Friedrich Haas has been recognized as a major second-generation “spectralist” composer, but that designation ignores the substantial influence on his music of earlier microtonal composers, especially Ivan Wyschnegradsky, a pioneer of microtonal equal temperaments, and Harry Partch, who developed a system of extended just intonation based on the overtone series. Haas’s recent works Blumenstück (2000) and in vain (2000–02) create large-scale form by dramatizing the opposition between equal temperament and just intonation.

    Blumenstück is a setting of texts from “The dead Christ proclaims that there is no god,” a poetic defense of faith against atheism and the first of two poetic “flower-pieces” in Jean Paul’s novel Siebenkäs. Haas uses the contrast between the acoustically fused pitches of the overtone series and the complex dissonances of equal temperament to illustrate the social fragmentation and alienation described in the text.

    The hour-long chamber orchestra piece in vain projects the harmonic concerns of Blumenstück onto a much larger canvas. Frequently, the superposition of purely tuned overtone chords on fundamental related by tempered intervals creates tiny, beating microtonal intervals between certain overtones; Haas refers to this effect as “Klangspaltung” (tone-splitting). As in Blumenstück, Haas’s contrast of just intonation and equal temperament is not merely a question of tuning, but a stark and expressive musical representation of incompatible worlds.