Serial Miniature for Piano 4

This miniature came very quickly… eventually! I wanted to write something using the intervals that are contained in the tone row as well as the notes themselves. However I really struggled to find the time to spend any quality time thinking about how it might work. Eventually the imminence of my next lesson forced me to find the time.

I had developed this idea from looking at the opening of Berg’s Lyrische Suite (1926). This is a serial piece in some important ways, but also uses intervals outside of the series, cycles of 5ths and 4ths etc. I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the intervals I had produced through the tone row.

I started out by writing out the series and working out the intervals between each adjacent pair of notes. There are two possible intervals, depending on whether the second note is higher or lower than the first note.

I used the same series as I have used for each of the preceding miniatures, that is:

Tone row

The intervals between the first and second notes in the series are 1 and 11 (using semitones). Similarly between the second and 3rd notes, the intervals are 1 semitone or 11, depending on whether the A# is pitched below or above the B. The full series of intervals is as follows:

2nd note below first 1 1 6 8 1 4 9 9 4 4 11
2nd note above first 11 11 6 4 11 8 3 3 8 8 1


This gave me an interesting pallet to play around with, with some interesting intervals in the series, covering a variety of 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths and 7ths

Once I had that in my mind, the shape of the piece came in to my head. I couldn’t tell you that I knew exactly which notes would be placed where, as I find that difficult enough even with tonal music, and with atonal music I have no chance! However, I knew how I wanted the piece to sound, and, to my great joy, it sounds like I imagined it (though I could not hear the intervals and therefore the harmony in my imagination).

I wanted the piece to begin with a flurry of notes, which would lead to a spread chord using the two of the intervals from the first two columns in the table above. I therefore had minor 2nds and Major 7ths to play with. I wanted to keep it tight and closed at the beginning so opted to use to minor 2nds .

I started with row P0 from the tone row matrix. This therefore gave rise to the following opening phrase:


I wanted a connected series of these flurries to begin the miniature and decided to connect them via the last note of the chord produced. This would then be the starting note of the next series which would be taken from the tone row matrix, calculated using

So in the example above, the chord is formed by the last note of the series (D) together with notes separated by the intervals I had chosen from the first two columns of the table above. OI chose two minor 2nds , so the resulting chord was made up of D, C#, C. The second series would therefore begin on a C (which happened to be the same as the starting note of the first series), and I could therefore choose to use any of the four following rows from the matrix:

P0, I0, R10 or RI2.

I chose R10. After the third iteration of this approach I then wanted to change the feel of the music and use some of the harmonies in a row from the matrix, rather than using just a horizontal series of notes. However I used the same principle, that it would start on the last note of the chord that ended the previous series, and it would end with a three-note chord based upon intervals from the next two columns of the table above.

By this time I knew the shape and sound world I was creating and wanted to work out how to bring it to a satisfactory close, so I worked backwards from the last series I wanted to use (P0 again, to give it some sense of symmetry) and the intervals I wanted to use, and therefore came up with some options for the order of matrix rows that I might use.

I did quite a lot of thinking, but not a huge amount of working out on paper as you can see form the pictures I took (below) of the pages in my manuscript book.

I was very happy with this little piece. However I had no idea what Pat would think when I went for my lesson. I must admit I was nervous.

He, however, you will be pleased to learn, was quite happy with it. He said things like: “It was coherent and integrated”; “Very well thought through” ; “Very playable” and “The sound world is very integrated”.

He pointed out some minor errors in my score writing in Sibelius, which I have now corrected, but was very pleased. He said I have made enormous progress since starting with him. He also asked whether I wanted ot be a serial composer. That felt like real validation. I said that I didn’t wanted to write music that crossed boundaries of the different methods and was integrated in itself (or some such words). He seemed happy with that J

Below is the music. I’d love to hear a proper pianist play though it and perhaps send me a recording of it… Sibelius playback engine is good.. but it’s not the same!

Serial Miniature 4 b (clean) – Full Score

Three Pages of manuscript 🙂

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