The Dark Path

Thomas Day

This is an original composition for violin and piano composed in Music 362: Advanced Composition II and originally performed by Wonhee Lim '16 (violin) and Conley Hurst '17 (piano). Audio included below.

The Dark Path is a highly expressive and technically challenging piano and violin duet composed as my midterm project in Dr. Vosbein’s MUS 362: Advanced Composition II. Throughout the semester, we learned about different twentieth century compositional techniques, including how to compose using mathematical relationships rather than traditional functional harmonies that have served as the foundation of Western music for centuries. This piece uses the dodecaphonic technique that Arnold Schoenberg developed in the 1920s, in which all twelve tones must sound before one can play again. This means that, rather than having one tonic note around which the entire melody and harmony revolves, the piece has much more harmonic freedom without any sense of home. I am naturally a very melodic and Romantic composer, so I fought against these restrictions for several weeks before I realized that the dodecaphonic system did not restrain any of the emotions I wanted my music to communicate. Rather it was simply a set of rules to work within just like any other musical laws. As a result, The Dark Path relates more closely to Beethoven than to Webern as a highly expressive marriage between Romantic sensibilities and serial methods.

To begin, I asked a close friend of mine to send me the numbers 1-12 in any random order without telling her what those numbers would be used for. She responded with 6, 4, 3, 7, 10, 1, 8, 5, 2, 12, 9, 11, so I placed these numbers into notes with C as 1, resulting in the tone row: F, D#, D, F#, A, C, G, E, C#, B, G#, A#. The violin’s first haunting theme plays these notes in this order before the rest of the piece continues by playing only those notes in those orders or according to certain compositional functions: inversion, which inverts all the intervals, retrograde, which plays all the notes backwards, or retrograde-inversion, which flips the intervals then plays them backwards.

The opening theme evokes a haunting image of a creepy, mist-covered pathway. The piano and violin begin to trade this theme back and forth with increasingly complex polyphony before the violin climbs to a shrill, frantic pitch. This heightened unrest continues into a blistering violin melody as the piano keeps inconsistent time to enhance the off-balanced nature of the section. The melody finally climbs to repeated, piercing notes from the violin that are augmented by pounding, dissonant cluster chords from the piano in a violent crescendo.

From this silence grows an innocent and timid melody high in the piano’s register, which contrasts drastically in its delicacy when compared with the preceding violence. The violin joins in with a mournful, yearning countermelody that weaves in and out of the piano’s texture before entering another crescendo that fades into a whimper where the piano quietly plays all twelve notes to provide a continued sense of unrest. Finally, both instruments restate the tone row one last time to end on the same unified note.


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