Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Tim Carey - September 15, 2013


This Sunday at Racer Sessions I will be presenting a new piece of music I have written for string orchestra. This performance, however, will feature a smaller group consisting of four violins, viola, cello, bass, and piano. This yet to be titled piece was inspired though a study of both the music and theoretical writings of composer and teacher Paul Hindemith. My interest in Hindemith’s music started in 2007 when I acquired a copy of his book “the Craft of Musical Composition” and grew in 2011 after reading “A Composer’s World” and becoming acquainted with several of his major orchestral works. Although the piece is not based entirely on his ideas, this is my attempt at using some of the concepts, suggestions, and approaches I have been reading about over the past six years in a setting that allows for their full realization.

The Theory

In “The Craft of Musical Composition (1937)” Hindemith proposes a new foundation for the theory of harmony. One based not on major and minor scales but on the 12-tone chromatic scale, and on the characteristics of the intervals contained therein. He presents a new method for finding chord roots, tonal centers, and for classifying chord types. Through my study of this book I have found that not only has it reinforced all of my previously held beliefs regarding the nature of harmony, but it has lead me to sounds and possibilities that I had not yet encountered as well. Two primary points of interest relating to this performance are…

1. Chord Classification (Short Version) –

Hindemith classifies chords not by type (Major, Minor, Dominant, etc…) but by two criteria. The first being whether or not the chord contains the interval of a tri-tone, the second being an assessment of all of the other intervals of the chord. He breaks chords into 6 groups each with several subgroups in descending order of “tension” from one to six. For example, “Group 1” contains chords with only 3rds, 6ths, 4ths, or 5ths (triads plus a few other structures) while “Group 4” contains chords with one or more tri-tones and one or more minor 2nds or major 7ths (altered and extended dominants, plus ???).

2. The Two Voice Framework

Hindemith puts a lot of emphasis on the concept of the “two voice framework” so much so that the entire second half of his theory book is dedicated to writing music for two voices. It was upon completion of this second half of the book that I decided to write this piece. The extreme emphasis on counterpoint, melodic tendencies, and malleability of the material not only opened up a new horizon of possibility in composition, but also gave me a deep appreciation for polyphony and the independence/co-existence of perhaps the most basic, yet most important aspect of a composition: the thematic material.

The Piece

It is a suite consisting of five movements. My initial goal was to complete this form with a certain level of comprehensibility and unification between each of the five sections. There are two primary organizational principles I used to unify the piece.

1. Exact repetition of the 10 primary motives throughout.

Each movement contains one or more distinct melodic ideas, as each idea is presented, it returns in later movements is its original form, several occur in all five sections. Because of this, the piece starts with a very homophonic (chords and melody) texture. As each “melodic character” enters the story, the texture becomes more polyphonic (several independent melodies)

2. Each movement begins with the same theme.

This theme does not occur during any of the major sections, but is instead used as an intro and a way to introduce the main theme of the following section as a secondary voice against the “intro theme.”

The Session

The concept for the session to follow the performance is one of theme and character. I would like each improviser, within the first minute or so of their first improvisation, to choose a melodic theme for themselves. This can be anything from a few notes, to a rhythm, to a harmonic device. For the remainder of the evening I would like each improviser to either enter the “story” via playing their theme clearly so as to allow others to accompany you, or, to listen for other people’s themes and attempt to accompany them. Themes may be altered in any way but would ideally remain recognizable to the listeners. Accompaniment may also be thematic in nature but could also consist of entirely new material. Emphasis should be placed on clarity of themes, even during heavy polyphony.

Preview of the score: