The Composer and Theory

Dr. Justin Henry Rubin © 2005

Intellectual Development and the Creation of Sonority are the two fundamental methods for composers to make a piece of music. The former deals with the succession of ideas, while the later is concerned with the moment-to-moment sound that is perceived, or in other words, the vessel in which the ideas can take, and change, shape.

Sonority is the realm in which style can most immediately be identified: the vocabulary from which a composer draws material in order to give rise to ideas. In periods in which there is a common practice, the composer is only marginally concerned with this concept as the vocabulary is an established one, and therefore only the particulars of the ideas and their development is of consequence. In periods of stylistic transition, sonority comes into greater focus and is often expanded or altered. This is of particular importance in the Modern era, wherein sonority for the first time became an equal point of concentration for the composer as development.

Within intellectual development, form is of principal importance. In essence, form is the perception of the continuity and reiteration of ideas over time and their transformation. The concept of melody/theme/motif is primary to the understanding form as it constitutes the material that will be repeated and transformed. Form can be examined at different levels including not only linear constructs, but sonorities themselves.

The transformation of a compositional idea can be accomplished through the following methods:

1.  Verbatim (or near verbatim) Repetition: the absence of transformation; any subsequent statement of the original idea in its original form.   The transformative element therefore is simply one of a contextual nature.

2. Transposition and Sequence:

a. A transposition is the reiteration of an idea or any substantial segment of an idea at a different pitch level than the original statement. Modulation/tonicization can be regarded as an extension of this transformative process.

b. A sequence is any group of transpositions sounded in succession (usually with a regular level of pitch deviation) that are unified by the use of the same musical segment.

3.  Liquidation: the removal of segments of an idea in successive iterations.

4.  Additive structure: the appending of segments to an idea in successive iterations.

5.  Metamorphosis: any non-regular method of altering an idea while maintaining its aural profile/means of identification with the original statement.


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