Michael Sparrow – Ainulindalë: The Music of the Gods – Blog Post 3

“Now Ilúvatar sat and hearkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself….Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound. But Ilúvatar sat and hearkened until it seemed that about his  throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged.”

 

In my first two blog posts, I described the nature of my project, in terms of inspiration and methodology; this post is intended to serve as a progress report at an intermediate stage of my work. At the time of writing I have completed the second and fourth movements, as well as the beginnings of the first and third; I intend to save the first movement for last, since parts of it will foreshadow important musical components of each of the other three movements. The second movement is 11 minutes 18 seconds long, and the fourth is 11 minutes 38 seconds; I expect the first to be somewhere in that neighborhood and the third to be about half as long, which will make for a total of 35-40 minutes or thereabouts for the entire piece. In my second blog post, I mentioned briefly and vaguely the three leitmotifs that show up across all four movements: Creation, Peace, and War. Having written a good deal of music featuring all three of these themes now, I can spare some time to discuss them in more detail, starting with the second two:

Figure 1: Peace Theme

Figure 1: Peace Theme

The Peace theme (fig. 1) and the War theme (fig. 2) are identical in terms of intervals on paper; the key difference is that the former is written in major, and the latter in minor. The setting in which these themes can be found also serves to differentiate them. Melkor, the antagonist of the story, is represented by the strings; in the conflicts between him and the rest of the Valar (winds and percussion), the minor War theme is used to further portray feelings of tension and ill will. On the other hand, periods of respite amid the conflicts, during which the strings bow out and the winds and percussion are allowed to play on their own, are characterized more by the major, lighthearted Peace theme. The War theme also tends towards faster tempi, stronger dynamic levels, and harsher, more disconnected articulations than does the Peace theme. Several other aspects found in the harmony parts make these themes more identifiable, namely a descending scale at the end of the second measure and parallel thirds beneath the melody in the fifth and sixth; both of those are typically found in the bass part, but can be in any voice as long as the part writing is sound. Additionally, there is a distinct chord progression that goes along with both of these themes, changed as necessary to navigate between major and minor; this chord progression and the melodies in the two themes are designed in such a way that the Peace and War themes can be repeated indefinitely.

Figure 2: War Theme

Figure 2: War Theme

With the Creation theme, I took a very different approach. There are two main traits of the creation theme: (1) it operates based on an immutable order of pitches, and (2) it always appears as a duet. The one exception to the second is found in the third movement, as I discussed in blog post 2, when Aulë presumes to create the race of the Dwarves outside of the plan of Eru Ilúvatar. The first aspect is the one that I played around with much more. In the world of music, there exists a genre called “Serialism;” serialist pieces utilize a discrete order of pitches (called a “set”) as the basic building block of an entire piece of music. No two serialist works contain the same set or collection of sets; each set, however, shares the following characteristics: it contains the entire chromatic scale (i.e. all 12 pitches in existence; octaval position does not matter), and no pitch can be repeated. There is also a series of “operations” that you can perform on the set: retrograde (reversing the order of pitches from front to back), inversion (swapping the vertical direction of each interval while keeping the distance the same), and transposition (moving the entire set up or down some constant distance); it is also possible to perform two or three of these operations on the same set.

Figure 3: Creation Theme

Figure 3: Creation Set

The Creation theme I am using in my piece takes inspiration from Serialism but applies it in a diatonic setting, that is, the set of pitches (fig. 3) contains the totality of a diatonic scale (think: all the white keys on a piano) rather than the full chromatic scale (white and black keys together); thus, the set is only seven notes long instead of the standard twelve for a Serialist set. This lends itself, as you can see above, to writing the Creation theme largely in a 7/8 setting, although I have adopted it into areas of 4/4 as well by lengthening some notes or adding rests. Like true Serialism, the Creation set contains a full scale and no pitches are repeated; admittedly I did not have Serialism in mind when I first designed this theme, but once I made the connection I decided I would try to include the standard operations. One device I use in every Creation theme section is to have the upper part play the set in its ground state and the lower part play the inversion at the same time. As I continued to explore the operations I realized something peculiar, and also unintentional: the inversion and retrograde of my Creation set are identical. Another method I often use in developing the Creation sections is the phenomenon of “composing out” the set of pitches; that is, expanding the series across multiple measures and filling in the space in between. An example would be a phrase of seven measures, each of which begins with the pitch from my Creation series in the same order.

 

Outside of composition, I have spent time on two other pursuits with regard to my project. The first is a Word document outlining the musical and instrumental tie-ins to the story, and going into detail with how each of the movements employs my three themes; I will be attaching this document, once complete, to my final blog post of the summer, along with PDFs of the sheet music and MP3s of each individual movement. The second, as I also touched on in my second blog post, has been to contact two professional composers and garner feedback from them about the progress I am making on my project. So far, both have looked at movement 2 in its entirety and have not yet commented on any other music; their comments thus far have been detailed and useful, and I will take some time at the end of the summer if I can spare to incorporate their suggestions into my music as I see fit. Depending on how quickly I finish the first and third movements, this may not fall under the timeline allotted by the Monroe project; one way or another, I will take a look at them in time, because this piece means enough to me that I would like to try to publish it someday, and before I do that I would want to make sure, based on as many opinions as possible, that it is as polished and marketable as can be.