Background Information and Performance Circumstanc
- Steve Reich born in 1936.
- American composer - pioneer of minimalism.
- Contemporaries: Philip Glass and Terry Riley - became known as 'The New York Hypnotic School'.
New York Counterpoint
- Written in 1985 as part of a series of works exploring counterpoint.
- In each piece, one player is responsible for playing all contrapuntal strands of music but is precorded so the final performance is a backing track with live solo performance.
- Commissioned by Fromm Music Foundation.
- First performance took place in Avery Music Hall, New York in 1986 by Richard Stoltzmann.
- 3 movement work.
- Intention was to capture the throbbing vibrancy of Manhattan.
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Performing Forces and their Handling
- Isolated to 1 instruments: Bb clarinet and bass clarinet.
- One performer who prerecords 10 parts and performs live part over prerecorded backing track.
- Music sounds a note lower than notated.
- Clarinets 1-3 use same melodic material within a range of C#-C#.
- Clarinets 4-6 work in a similar way but A-A.
- Clarinets 7-10 cover a wide range and generally play persistent repeating notes.
- Exception: bars 1-12 - clarinets are grouped in pairs.
- Extremes of register are avoided except part 10 to play the lowest available note (bar 33 onwards).
- Live clarinet has most active part: low A - high C#.
- Timbre limited to clarinet tone but still some variety due to contrasting sound created by the clarinets 3 different registers - chalumeu, clarino and altissimo.
- Complete homogeneity of tone due to solo player performance.
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- Counterpoint plays a key role.
- Texture is an important feature.
- Persistent use of staggered repetition of melodic material at the heart of construction.
- Not an example of phasing.
- Movement gradually grows in instrumental density from 2 instruments playing homorhythmically at start; bar 3 - entry of 2 further parts; bar 9 onwards - 6-11 parts playing.
- All instruments play 2 bar units which repeat constantly in ostinati manner.
- Bar 3: initial 2 part counterpoint consists of imitation at 1 quaver distance.
- Bar 13: music divides into 3 undouble homorhythmic pairings and a 3 part canonic texture with each entry at 1 quaver emerges.
- Bar 21: Clarinet 3 enters with identical line to live Clarinet.
- Bar 25: Live Clarinet begins solo passagework, Clarinet 3 left to maintain individual line within canonic texture.
- Live Clarinet and Clarinets 7-10 add other material, texture remains unaltered.
- Opening bars consist of clarinets playing in homorhythm at interval of compound 3rd apart.
- Final bar returns to homorhythmic with Clarinets 1 - 4.
- Bar 27: Clarinets 7 - 10 enter with repetitive semiquavers creating feeling of pulsating chordal homophony.
- Live Clarinet plays more intricate, soloistic melodic line which gives feeling of textural independence.
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- Dynamics play vital role in chordal homophony.
- Four lower parts fade in and out of overall texture with carefully graduated crescendoes and diminuendoes.
- Clarinets 1 - 6 never rise above mf and mp throughout.
- Live Clarinet and Clarinets 7 - 10 instructed to reach f at peak of 'fade in' and 'fade out' patterns - given brief textural dominance before fading back into the background.
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- No definite structural label.
- Evolves as a product of textural and melodic elements.
- Bars 1 - 12: Introduction of melodic/canonic material as the number of instruments playing increases.
- Bars 13 - 71: Unchanging 3 part canon using 2 bar ostinato patterns.
- Bars 25 - 66: Live Clarinet fades in and out with solo line.
- Bars 27 - 65: Parts 7 - 10 fade in and out with 4-part chords in semiquavers.
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- Diatonic throughout.
- 6-note scale is basis of all melodic material throughout - hexatonic scale.
- E - F# - G# - A# - B - C#.
- Use of A# is noteworthy - without it pattern could be described as hexachord but with it the scale becomes Lydian in character.
- Melodic pattern consists mainly of leaps but there is some stepwise pattern.
- Leaps usually outline broken chords or arppeggio pattern.
- Each recorded Clarinet melodies stays within limited range of an octave.
- Bars 25 - 66: Live Clarinet extends it range to over 2 octaves.
- Live Clarinet more extreme in disjuct melodic shapes.
- Bar 35: 2 ascending minor 6th leaps followed by minor 7th descent, after which the line continues to head lower when an ascent might have seemed natural.
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- Influences come from Indian and Balinese music as well as some contemporary Jazz.
- Essentially diatonic.
- Alternation of chords IV (EM) and V (F#M) forms main harmonic movement.
- Alternation is not totally straightforward.
- Because of staggered entries there is harmonic blurring where one chord merges with the next before becoming fully independent.
- Overlap of chords results in brief but audible dissonance each time.
- Entry of parts 7 - 10 on chordal semiquavers introduces a non-functional element.
- 3 different chords used in the textural layer.
- Bar 27: BM chord over a C# in the bass.
- Bar 33: E - G# - D# - A# (3 upper parts a 5th apart).
- Bar 39: F#M chord over G# in the bass.
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- Tonality is never clearly established due to harmonic stasis and avoidance of D#s.
- Key signature suggests B Major.
- Lack of key defining cadence due to reliance on chords IV and V.
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Rhythm and Metre
- Simple triple throughout.
- Listener would find it hard to discern time signature.
- Mainly built on short rhythmic units featuring grouped semiquavers interspersed with longer notes and separated by rests.
- After homorhythmic start, counterpoint gradually builds in rhythmic complexity.
- When Clarinets 7 - 10 enter there is a perpetual semiquaver impetus.
- Begins as fragmented rhythmic feel evolves into complex tapestry of rhythms .
- Bar 3: Should be syncopation but syncopation is only effective when working against an audibly defined metre - this doesn't happen.
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