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Pitch Symmetry in Martin Bresnick's "My Twentieth Century" and "Meden Agan" for Chamber Ensemble

Fromm, Mark (2012) Pitch Symmetry in Martin Bresnick's "My Twentieth Century" and "Meden Agan" for Chamber Ensemble. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The analysis component of this dissertation focuses on the pitch world and harmonic language in Martin Bresnick’s "My Twentieth Century" for sextet. The surface-level harmony consists solely of major and minor triads, while the underlying structure relies on a pitch-class axis of symmetry.

Bresnick crafts a pitch world that balances diatonicism with pitch symmetry by unifying salient aspects of both. First, he uses a four-note diatonic segment ([0 2 3 5] or tone-semitone-tone) as his primary melodic unit. He then builds chord progressions from such segments using only major and minor triads; this creates phrases that each contain exactly four chords. To derive a harmonic progression for the consequent phrase, he takes the pitch-classes from the initial four-chord phrase and reflects them about a C# - G axis of symmetry. Finally, he adds drone pitches on C# and G, serving as aural reference points and making the axis of symmetry explicit.

By choosing to use reflected pitch structures sequentially rather than simultaneously, Bresnick avoids mirrored melodies in which two voices begin in unison, move equal distances in contrary motion, and return to the starting pitch. (Such melodies are common to the symmetrical structures found in works of Bartók and Ligeti.) Instead, by creating a series of four triads in one phrase and then reflecting those triads in the next phrase, he creates an audible link between the two without simple transposition, inversion, or retrogression.

This paper is an in-depth analysis of "My Twentieth Century," focusing on pitch symmetry and harmonic language. Bresnick’s adherence to his plan is so rigorous that the analysis accounts for every pitch in the piece.

The composition component of this dissertation, Meden Agan for chamber ensemble, explores the idea of creating two disparate musical ideas and amalgamating them as the piece unfolds. The title derives from the Ancient Greek idea of balancing the Dionysian (excess) and the Apollonian (moderation). Musically this unfolds by alternating episodes of wild, heterophonic woodwind-led music with calm, exacting polyphony led by the strings. Gradually, each group takes on ideas of the other until they are fused and indistinguishable in the end.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMoe, Ericemoe@pitt.eduEMOE
Committee MemberRosenblum, Mathewrosenblu@pitt.eduROSENBLU
Committee MemberWilliams, Amyamywill@pitt.eduAMYWILL
Committee MemberLooney, Dennislooney@pitt.eduLOONEY
Date: 15 June 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 March 2012
Approval Date: 15 June 2012
Submission Date: 10 April 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 143
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bresnick, pitch symmetry, axis of symmetry, Tom Andrews, text setting, rhythmic ostinato
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2012 20:22
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:57


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