SATB Choir & Soli
I have been thinking about how to work with instruments to standardize and simplify it according to my notational goals, and what might provide a solution is the harmonic nomenclature of the lead sheets I spent most of my life working with. Because I was trying to dissaude interpretation away from tonal analysis I tried to distance myself from these methods, but in this case the foundational logic is the same as my own attempts to define a continuo method, because it is built to represent "extended" and "non chord" tones that reflect my harmonic practice.
So we have this space that I call the "harmonic well," within which rests the core expression of the word, and, in relation, those things that act upon it. It occurs according to the text, not the pulse, so the instruments work in reaction to the voice, not the conductor. The armonia will decay naturally, but the effetto will last for the length of the line in relation to the text, so it could be the first syllable, the whole word, or even up to the following word.
I reorganized the effetto so that instructions are less instrumentally specific, and decided upon four that cover a majority of the essential extended techniques while leaving space for interpretation.
Harmonic tones are given as three possible variations. A circle represents a natural harmonic tone, a diamond with a number represents an artificial harmonic tone stopped at the 3rd/4th/5th, and "harmonic" represents a tone in the harmonic series.
Alt represents a technique different from a standard pitch, e.g. flautando, different fingering, a breathier or inharmonic intonation, etc. with an ideal sound being noted but the decision being open based on feasibility.
Chord represents a multiphonic or multi stop based on the root pitch, the actual harmonic content being open.
A pitch on the five line staff with a number above represents an alternative intonation in cents. This is not to be extremely strict, as some gradations are very fine, but it serves as a guideline for how to shade the tone differently than equal temperament. It can be acted upon by any of the three.
These are not embellishment, each of these has a structural role based upon the sound of the word as to heighten it. A harmonic tone relates to a pure vowel, one where the consonant sound doesn't crunch or linger; in contrast, an alt tone reflects an impure vowel phoneme, one where the sound is fundamentally altered by its paired consonances, like the sound of the s in "us." Chord appears in sections of harmonic density and is more a reflection of color.
The decision as to what the root tone will be is determined by not simply the core harmonic context of the text, but also the possibility of coloring the total harmonic fabric in working with the harmonic content of the text. In addition, as can be seen on the first page, the effetto quality can change over the duration of the pitch.
Beyond these technical comments, this piece also represents a different formal structure. Recently I have been working exclusively with recitative, derived from psalm tone structures, in order to develop my formal ideas; however, there are, to me, four distinct liturgical forms in the proper: recitation, antiphon, responsorial, and prayer. Each of these encompasses different interactions of forces: the prayer being cantor, responsorial being cantor with an exterior group, recitation being cantor with a plainchant or soli element, and antiphon engaging all possible groups. Combine these with the free polyphonic ordinary for soli and the hymn strictly for choir, and you have the shape of the mass.
Generally these forms are very simple. Prayers and responsorials are very basic in structure, and the more free forms having a fluid, text derived structure. However, here this is an introit, an antiphon, so the structure is strict because it combines multiple texts, thus
Intonation - antiphon - alleluia - verse - doxology - antiphon
Intonation - tutti - plainchant - tutti
Note here than in the intonation the red text happens alongside the choir, a harmonic convergence between song, a line acting upon the word, and intonation, a line emerging from the word—a world that is "microtonal" in the sense it is not bound by the prison of the keyboard—developing a dense, complex harmonic texture.
Because it isn't built upon a structure like the recitative upon the psalm tone, it sits between a free composition and standard trans formative practice: the antiphon is freely composed, but because I never repeat, the repeat is a transformation of the material; however, owing to the immense history and wealth of liturgical practice, not everything is "composed." the verse rests on the plainchant from the liber usualis. The doxology is given as an Euouae formula. The liturgical is, as I've written before, a highly "intertextual" form, it combines texts and music from different times into one composite form that complements itself in highlighting the differences and connections. The liturgy was essentially "postmodern" before the postmodern in the juxtaposition of chants of various age and origin with freely composed polyphony via cantus firmi modified by parody or paraphrase or isothythm or soggetto cavato. But this is a "postmodern" that affirms a "modern." The liturgy and its forms are a unification of all life, a catholicity, of past and present, made into one total, complete, and monumental musical form built from smaller musical forms.
The structure of the antiphon is unique because it is one of the few forms where instrumental texture is readily apparent, due to the historical use of the organ in the liturgy. The question of whether or not instruments have a place in liturgy is not as the traditionalists might pose it, one of the secular invading the sacred, but rather one where the instruments serve to act against the greater musical end of the liturgy. Music serves not for its own sake, but the heighten the ritual.
The problem with instruments in liturgical history is rather the same fear as found with the Council of Trent's questioning of secular cantus firmi: weighing down the transcendent with the base; yet, here is the contemporary, after Cage's number pieces. The musical expression, technique, texture and handling does not reflect the base, but rather the transcendent: the instruments, more than anything, express something beyond the word, detached from rhythm and pulse, a harmony ex coelis. Ever Cagean, the existence is immaterial in optionality. The choice of it existing, the forces, and the results, are those of the place and the space, just as in the liturgy of the past, bound only to what was and what could be.
Sean Patrick Ignatius Tartaglia
Copyright © Sean Tartaglia 2022