Harpsichord Suite No. 1 (Work in Progress)

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I share with you today a suite for solo harpsichord (still in progress). The piece is composed using Schillinger’s Theory of Pitch Scales, particularly the Scales of the Fourth Group. For those of you who are not familiar it Schillinger had a very logical and objective view of music theory. He did not think within the bounds of established music theory but instead with the systematic processes of math. 

Schillinger divided pitch-scales into four categories. 

  • Group One: One root-tone, with a range limit of 11 steps (or one octave).
  • Group Two: One root-tone, with a range limit over 12 steps.
  • Group Three: More than one root-tone with a range of 11.
  • Group Four: More than one root-tone with ranges varying between 24, 36, 60, and 132 steps.

The scales of the Third and Fourth Groups are unique in that they are based upon an equal division of an octave, and in the case of the Fourth Group expanded to encompass more than one octave. To construct a pitch-scale in this manner take an equal division of an octave, such as a whole-tone scale, because that is what was used in this piece, and invert the major seconds into ninths.

ex: F – G – A – B – Db – Eb – F, all major seconds and a span of an octave becomes F – Eb – Db – B – A – G – F, all minor ninths with a span of five octaves. 

All of those become your “tonics”. After your tonics are in place you fill the space in-between with appropriate tones. The key to this approach is the suggestion that the individual sections of the scale are filled in with the same arrangement of tones. Without this continuity the pitch-scale would feel much more like a single tonic scale with a compass larger than an octave. 

So my decision to go with the six-tonic, five-octave scale came about because the harpsichord I was writing for had a range of five octaves. The idea of five octaves with six tonics came together naturally. I took the idea and ran with it. Everything in the piece is based off of that ratio of 5:6, or fractions of it. From the rhythmic patterns to the harmonic ideas filling in the sections of the scale all came from that original idea of five and six.

The Sarabande is pretty typical in its construction, with the archetypal agogic accent on the second beat, although it is somewhat subverted by the mixed meter. The Gigue is also written in fairly simple structure with the exception that upon reaching the middle of the piece it is repeated in retrograde inversion.

Copyright © 2012 Brian DeLaney. All rights reserved.

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