Saturday, April 22, 2017

Elliott Carter's Brass Quintet

Originally written in 1974, Elliot Carter's Brass Quintet is a modern work originally commissioned by the American Brass Quintet. Because of the Carter's choices involving rhythm, harmony, and the layering of parts, it is a exceedingly difficult piece to rehearse and perform. Below is a recording and answers to some guided questions based on my opinions of the piece.

1. What's the overall affect of the piece? How does the music make you feel and why?

This piece is interesting to listen to because of its complexity. However, because it sounds avant-garde both rhythmically and melodically, I am left unsatisfied with the final product. I can appreciate the high level of playing ability needed by the ensemble in order to effectively perform this work, but because of its expanded tonality, lack of melody, and unclear pulse, it is not very impressionable to me.

I am very much a believer in composing and performing music that is accessible to a broad range of audiences. Although I am all for playing pieces that stretch the listener's ear, this seems to be a work written in such a complex manner that the music itself suffers.

2. What are 2 or 3 unique characteristics of the piece? Mention measure numbers.

The amount and type of muting is a unique characteristic. For example, in m. 72-95 and m. 194-210 the muted horn has to imitate the nasal quality of the 2nd trumpet.

The difficult stopped passages in the horn is also a unique feature. Often the horn will have to go from open to stopped or stopped to open in the span of less than a beat like in m. 110. This takes great skill and a lot of practice to play successfully.

Carter makes use of interesting rhythms and layers rhythms in unique ways. For example in m. 133, He has dotted 32nd notes, along with five-tuplet dotted rhythms, and 16th notes all playing at the same time.

3. Comment on the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic language. What are some of the challenges?

In my opinion, the most challenging and complex part of the piece is the use of rhythms and the layering of the different rhythms within the parts. Each player has a very individualized rhythmic part that involves a lot of awkward and varied rhythms. On top of that, there is never a clear sense of pulse because of the way in which the rhythms are written, so this makes lining up the individual parts even more difficult within the ensemble.

Both the melodies and harmony add to the challenge of the work. Melodically, the music is very disjunct. There are a lot of difficult leaps, and there does not seem to be much repetition of motivic or melodic ideas. Harmonically, the work mainly sounds atonal. There are not many instances where the key area is clear, and Carter seems to purposely avoid any cadential progressions and favors a lot of chromatic motion instead.

No comments:

Post a Comment