Composer Aaron Mencher‘s work “Uncertainly Yours” is a very cohesive work that relies on intervallic tightness, but is extremely fluid and athematic.  Please download his score to follow along with this analysis.

Here is the audio:

The piece begins with the unifying interval that holds this piece tightly together, despite its arhythmicism and themelessness.  The second (major, minor, or microtonal) appears throughout this piece:

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Here we see the violin and cello exploring this concept on G and (roughly) A-flat.  Notice how the rhythm follows a heterophonic alignment/misalignment, as do the timbral shifts (timbral key taken from the score):

“m.s.t molto sul tasto
m.s.p molto sul ponticello
s.t sul tasto
s.p sul ponticello
ord. ordinario”

This alignment and misalignment not only makes this very hard to establish a beat, even in 4/4, but it creates a tectonic shifting that does not synchronize until key moments.

The first of these key moments of arrival occurs in bar 27.  Here Mencher expertly dovetails a resounding B-flat in the piano, ringing out as if an echo of the prior chaos has persisted:

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 7.54.42 AMAgain, note the interval of a second, and the polyrhythms that create, in effect, arhythmic fluidity.

The flute solo that follows at letter D is a precursor, a foreshadowing, of the end of the piece, which ends in a soliloquy marked “Remembering”.

The “development” of the piece introduces common musical effects.  There are arhythmic sound blocks:

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string effects:

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and the persistence of the theme-less, motive-less interval:

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The performers on the recording do a great job of emphasizing the arhythmicism, and Mencher does a great job of tempo selection and rhythmic notation that creates an even escalation and deescalation of motion:

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So, what can we learn, as composers, from Mencher’s work?

  1. You don’t have to be thematic or motivic in order to have a unified, cohesive work.  The exploration of even one interval can make your piece coherent without sacrificing your artistic license
  2. Rhythmic fluidity can be caused by misalignment, aleatoric notation, and rhytmic density.  These are three ways to “loosen up” your piece if it is “within the barlines”
  3. Make your ideas clear.  Mr. Mencher does not indicate too many performance instructions, but his engraving, sense of musical flow, and clarity of notation all lead to a piece that plays right off the page
  4. Effects can be used in a large amount, but with great nuance, so that one’s piece does not have to be an exercise in extended techniques
  5. Density variations can add drama and shape to one’s piece.  The use of low piano pedals, flourishes in the winds, and tremolos in the strings are contrasted with solo instruments, which create a sense of closeness followed by space.  Never underestimate the power of contrast and space.  (You don’t have to write too many notes, all of the time)
  6. Experiment with tuplets, not for the sake of being “modern”, but as a way to free up your piece’s direction.  Mr. Mencher generally stays in very simple meters, but his piece is devoid of barlines from an aural standpoint
  7. On a side note, build a brand that you can market.  Aaron’s SoundCloud page and website are consistent, full of polished audio, and are not overly complex.  Simplicity and clarity, with many ways for people to find your work online, can be key first steps to getting your music heard.  If you meet someone, you should be able to end the conversation with “you can check out my website at…”  Marketing oneself is not the primary job of us composers, but it is essential to our development (not just professionally, but also artistically–if you don’t make new opportunities, your artistic acumen risks being stunted).

I would suggest that you check out more of Aaron’s work, as it continuously re-uses these musical concepts, but always in a fresh context and with new perspective.  His website is http://www.menchermusic.com/.

I hope you were able to take something away from this post.  Here’s onto the next analyses!

Dan