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Compare and contrast approaches to Tonality in New York Counterpoint, String Quartet number 8 by Shostakovich and Quartet by Webern.

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Compare and contrast approaches to Tonality in New York Counterpoint, String Quartet number 8 by Shostakovich and Quartet by Webern. As these pieces are all from the 20th century, each of the composers added their own interpretations with regards to tonality. I aim to analyse each piece in the context of tonality in order to answer this question. New York Counterpoint (NYC) by Steve Reich is tonal which means it makes use of a conventional key which is B major. This can be seen from the five sharps of the key signature (and lack of D naturals and F naturals.) In fitting with the key of B major, all the notes Reich uses in NYC are from the B major scale which makes the piece entirely diatonic. Although the piece is tonal and diatonic, Reich does not make use of functional harmony. This can be seen because of the lack of cadences and chord structures. The notes of the ostinati in the first section (bars 1-26) are based on chords four and five (E major, and F# major.) For example, in the first two bars beat 1 of bar 1 uses the noes A and C (chord V) then, the three semi quavers contain all the notes of chord IV (EGB) ...read more.


Cl 9) and a C# in the bass clarinet 10. The notes make up the chord of B major (BD#F#) however the dissonance of a C# is added which creates unclear harmony. This dissonance is then extended when the chords change in bar 33. The notes heard are A#, D#, G# and E. These notes don't make up any conventional chord therefore, creating dissonance in the tonality. String quartet 8 by Shostakovich is a tonal work in the key of C minor, this can be deduced from the key signature and the accidentals of B natural. However, the C minor tonality is unclear and undermined from the start due to the different keys that each of the DSCH motives enter in. The cello enters in the key of C minor (D, Eb, C, Bnatural are all from the C minor scale.) The viola enters in the key of G minor (A natural, Bb, G and F# from G minor scale.) The 2nd violin enters in C minor (same notes as cello but an octave higher.) Finally, the 1st violin enters in bar 5 in the key of F minor (G, Ab, F, E natural all from F minor scale.) It is also interesting how Shostakovich uses all twelve notes of the chromatic scale by bar 6 which firstly shows no evidence for a diatonic nature in the melody but also links the piece (weakly) ...read more.


Unlike NYC and Shostakovich's string quartet, Webern's 'Quartet' is completely atonal. It's atonal because the piece is composed using serialist techniques. This means that Webern has created a tone row which is constructed from all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, not in order and none repeated. This has the effect of placing no importance on a single note. The prime order tone row can be head in the tenor saxophone from bars 6-10. Because no importance is placed on a single note, it removes all the traditional and conventional elements that were laid out by 17th/18th/19th century tonality. The music isn't centred on the tonic, it has no key, it has no cadences and no deliberate harmonic chords that accompany a supporting melody. Although, there are chords they are simply a result of different perumatations of the cantus firums (prime row) overlapping, such as the climatic point at 22 and 23. In other words, any notes that sound together are not a result of deliberate harmony. There is no harmony in this work. However, it is still interesting how the structure of the Quartet is a traditional sonata form. Conventionally, a traditional sonata form would have made use of functional harmony with modulations and different keys for different sections. As previously stated, the Quartet does none of this therefore it is an example of Webern using a traditional structure in a 20th century manner. ...read more.

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