Thursday, June 13, 2013

Townsend: Suite No. 1, Chant

This movement, the fourth of the suite, is the most original, I believe. It is certainly influenced by earlier music, Gregorian chant and Chopin in particular, but I don't think anyone has used those influences in quite this way, and certainly not for the guitar. Ken, my recording engineer, kept saying that the guitar was sounding like a cello and I see what he means. I wrote this quite quickly. It just seemed to come to me. Then I played it many times in different ways because I realized that while the notes were important, in this piece the tone-colors and dynamics were equally important. Finally, I went back to the score and tried to add in indications of how the music should be played.

In the middle of the piece there is a direct quote from one of the oldest chants, the Pange Lingua, which dates from the 6th or 7th century AD. Those little flurries of grace notes are the Chopin influence. But I think it is safe to say that this is my music and it uses the capacities of the guitar in a unique way.

One of the oddest things about the piece is the way I have notated it. It looks really strange because I have used whole notes for most of the pitches. What I wanted was a piece with no pulse. In the 17th century lutenists had a clever way of writing pieces like this, called unmeasured preludes. Since in lute tablature the notes and the rhythms are notated independently. If you don't want to specify any rhythms, just don't write them down. But modern notation, and especially music software, doesn't allow this. So I wrote everything (except the grace notes) in whole notes. That's why you get odd time signatures like 5/1 or 16/1. Those aren't measures, they are phrases! Anyway, I think the effect of the piece justifies the odd notation.