Music Theory Online
A Journal of Criticism, Commentary, Research, and Scholarship
Volume 7, Number 3, May 2001
Copyright � 2001 Society for Music Theory
Slottow, Stephen P. "A Vast Simplicity: Pitch Organization in the works of Carl Ruggles." Graduate Center, City University of New York, 2001.
AUTHOR: Slottow, Stephen P.
TITLE: A Vast Simplicity: Pitch Organization in the works of Carl Ruggles
INSTITUTION: Graduate Center, City University of New York
COMPLETED: April, 2001
ABSTRACT: Carl Ruggles�s �uvre, although small, is powerful, finely crafted, and intensely individual: his compositions are not easily mistaken for those of any other composer. An individuality so audibly recognizable points to distinctive musical characteristics and procedures. This study focuses on procedures of pitch organization, examines them in detail, and, to some extent, puts them in the context of Ruggles�s spiritual aesthetic--the striving towards the transcendent and the sublime. The study draws on recent theories of contour and atonal voice leading, as well as on Fortean set theory and Charles Seeger�s dissonant counterpoint. It consists of a series of linked sections, each exploring a different parameter, grouped together in three analytical chapters framed by an introduction and conclusion.
The introduction describes Ruggles�s role in the ultra-modern movement, and includes a survey of the analytical literature. The conclusion discusses the relation between Ruggles�s compositional procedures and his aesthetic/spiritual ideas, taking the form of a commentary on Charles Seeger�s 1938 critique of the composer.
The analytical material is grouped under chapters on melody, motive, and polyphony. Chapter 2 (melody) explores linear pitch-class nonrepetition, interval distribution, chromatic completion, and contour. Chapter 3 (motive) begins with a short discussion of motivic parameters, and goes on to describe a series of motivic processes, many derived from the theories of Charles Seeger: immediate repetition, regular and split transposition and inversion, extension, intension, fragmentation, and liquidation. After a description of motives in sequential contexts, the chapter ends with a consideration of Ruggles's use of combinations of IC5 and 1. Chapter 4 (counterpoint and harmony) begins with a clarification of Seeger�s term dissonant counterpoint, describes Seeger�s classification of intervals, examines Ruggles�s two-part counterpoint (including voice exchange), discusses chord construction and voice leading, and ends with a description of Ruggles�s canons.
Throughout, a steadily developing theme is the tension between consistent compositional procedures in Ruggles�s music and the composer�s determination not to use them systematically. This �consistent inconstancy� is integral both to Ruggles�s compositional method and to his aesthetic.
KEYWORDS: Carl Ruggles, Charles Seeger, dissonant counterpoint, atonal voice leading, voice exchange, sublime, canons, sequences, interval cycles, dissonation
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Melody
2.1 The Importance of the Line
2.1.1 The Woodpecker
2.2 Linear Pitch-Class Nonrepetition
2.3 Pitch-Class and Interval Distribution
2.4 Chromatic Completion, Aggregates, and Near-Aggregates
2.5 Contour: Straight and Crooked Lines
Chapter 3 Motive
3.1 Motivic parameters
3.2 Motivic processes
3.2.1 Immediate Repetition (Echo)
3.2.2 Transposition and Inversion/ Split Transposition and Inversion
3.2.3 Processes that Change Cardinality: Extension, Intension, Fragmentation, and Liquidation
3.2.4 Sequences: Motivic Aspects
3.2.5 Interval Combinations and Combination Cycles: Fifths and Semitones
Chapter 4 Counterpoint and Harmony
4.1 The Term �Dissonant Counterpoint�
4.2 Two-part Counterpoint--Vertical Intervals
4.3 Two-part Counterpoint--Voice Exchange
4.4 Relations between Three or More Voices
4.4.1 The Construction of Vertical Sonorities
4.4.2 Voice Leading Between Vertical Sonorities
Chapter 5 Conclusion
Appendix: Publication Chronology of Carl Ruggles�s Compositions( including
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