14 August 2004

Rhythmic invention in compound meters

Here's a quick look at the Kansas song "The Spider" from Point of Know Return (1977), the 2nd movement of Philip Glass' Symphony No. 3 (1995), the 3rd movement of Walter Piston's first String Quartet (1933), and the 3rd movement of Sergei Prokofiev's seventh Piano Sonata (1939-1942).

There is probably a specific name for this style of composition using compound meters. Eighth notes are grouped in shifting combinations of twos and threes to create larger, off-balance phrases. Even with the "lazy" left hand part, you can see the disorienting and fluid structure of the melody in the Kansas composition.

The Spider

All four of these compositions have that characteristic.

The movement from the Glass symphony builds from a single line adding additional voices then varying the texture of the piece throughout with pizzicato sections. The overall form is A-B-A with a coda introducing a new melody at around 4:52. The Kansas song is a very short rondo structured as A-B-A-C-A. The meter varies greatly throughout. The Piston piece is also a rondo, mixing meters of 2/4 and 5/8 (as 2+2+2+3) and 5/8 (as 2+3). The Prokofiev piece, marked precipitato, has much in common with the nervous looseness of the Kansas piece, although with much greater structure. It opens in long 7/4 measures and staggers rhythmic layers upon each other as the theme is repeated. The structure is A-B-A with a short coda.

[ posted by sstrader on 14 August 2004 at 11:53:39 AM in Music ]