Week 5

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The Lure of Abstraction

In this session, we discuss an important characteristic of much modernist music: its tendency towards ever increasing abstraction. Two works by Bartok demonstrate this tendency: the fugue from the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and the String Quartet No.4.

Students learn how symmetrical pitch structures and inversional symmetry become increasingly important in the music of the twentieth century. They are introduced to Bartok’s ‘axis-system’ and learn about the fundamental importance of the tritone in his music, both locally and structurally.

We’ll also look at the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Section in relation to some of these pieces.



Preparatory Listening


Preparatory Reading


Questions for you to consider and Indicative seminar activities

  • In the aural experience of Bartok’s String Quartet No.4, does there remain any connection with folk music?
  • Judging from your experience of listening to the String Quartet No.4 and the first movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, would you describe the music as tonal or atonal? Could you identify tonal centres after analysing these two scores?
  • Which pieces of music can you identify which you think influenced Bartok?
  • Which pieces of music can you identify which you think have been influenced by Bartok?
  • Consider your recent experience of ‘arranging’ the Rite of Spring.  What questions emerge for you?  What were the difficulties and how did you overcome them?  How would you advise other arrangers and composers?
  • We listen to the fugue from Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.  Do you think the references to the golden section and fibonacci sequence are appropriate?  Do these techniques have any real effect on the experience we have of the music?


First assignment due this week!