Baby Steps – The magic formula?

“When singing or listening to Whitacre’s choral pieces, I am continually struck by the beauty of each individual sound-moment. In my experience, individual vocal lines function not as melodies so much as a string of pitches with which Whitacre creates his uncommon and, to my ears, breathtakingly beautiful sonorities. Naturally, as a music theorist I want to know why Whitacre’s sonorities should move me as they do.” Hall, 2012

I sat down yesterday with my A Boy and A Girl score, to find out what actually makes it work. Through my fairly loose harmonic analysis, I didn’t spend too long arguing with myself over the purpose or proper names of the chords as I don’t think it really is the type of piece that has been designed as a Harmony and Analysis 201 assignment.

It has lots of dissonances, close together, yet it still sounds so beautiful. I think I’ve found what the strategy in this song at least it. Semitone “clashes” on the top, not resolving at the end of phrases as I would perhaps expect, and fifths on the bottom. Even as sections divide as the piece goes on, ending up in 8 parts total this rule is still found. Triads with an added 9th make up most of the first few pages, with the occasional added fourth.

This is the first few pages of my marked up score. I have pin head brackets for semitone and tone clashes and square brackets for the fifths.

The quote this blog post starts with comes from a very detailed thesis, Added-Tone Sonoroties in the Choral Music of Eric Whitacre, by Angela Paige Minahan Hall. The thesis is an WU Open Scholarship document meaning anyone can access it and if complex discussion of harmony/theory is your thing, I would recommend it as good read.



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