Thursday 11-12:30 ET

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20th-Century Composers’ Tonal Organization

Andrew Mead (Indiana University), Chair

N.B. Unfortunately there was a Zoom error during this session, please use the following two links to access the recordings of this session:

20th-Century Composers’ Tonal Organization - part 1

20th-Century Composers’ Tonal Organization - part 2

Milhaud’s Technique of Combination: Tonal Juxtapositions in the String Quartets

Dylan Principi (Princeton University)


This paper analyzes three types of dissonant structural combinations in Darius Milhaud’s string quartets: juxtapositions of harmonies, of discrete tonal melodies, and of formal plans. None of the most thorough analytical studies of Milhaud’s work by Paul Cherry (1980), Jeremy Drake (1989), Deborah Mawer (1997), Barbara Kelly (2003), explore combination as an overarching technique. Yet scrutinizing the quartets shows how Milhaud conjoined progressively larger tonal structures throughout his life—first chords, then melodies, later forms—seeking a uniquely French style of dissonance, rooted in the tonal tradition. These conclusions support François de Médicis’s (2004) argument that contemporary criticisms of Milhaud’s alleged “atonality” were motivated more by antisemitism than by aesthetic values.

I begin by interpreting the vertical sonorities in Milhaud’s second quartet as concatenated pairs of triads, labeling them with ordered pitch class intervals that indicate the separation of their chord roots. This analytical strategy demonstrates that Milhaud contracts and expands the separation of combined harmonies for dramatic effect, punctuating significant formal events. I conclude the presentation by considering how, in the fourteenth and fifteenth quartets, Milhaud graduates from combinations of harmony and melody to juxtapositions of whole tonal forms, borrowing from disparate periods of musical history. Because the fourteenth and fifteenth quartets yield the Octet when they are performed simultaneously, these pieces exhibit especially productive misalignments of formal design and fascinating conflicts in their orchestration. In all, I argue that “combination” is a constant theme throughout Milhaud’s seemingly inconstant compositional output.

Roslavets’s Old System of Tone Organization: Scriabinism, Synthetic Chords, and the Fifth Piano Sonata (1923)

Jared Redmond (Seoul National University)


In the mid-1920s, Nikolai Roslavets crested his career as brash modernist in the young Soviet Union, proclaiming his compositional method a “new system of tone organization” spurred by “powerful inner impulse”. Roslavets scholars have generally taken the composer at his word, but I argue that Roslavets (like many early Soviet avant-garde figures) owed his technical procedures largely to the innovations of late Scriabin. This paper examines the similarities and differences between the two composers’ most constructivist tendencies, showing that Roslavets’s “new system” was precisely Scriabin’s “old”, with Scriabin’s favored chords and collections simply swapped for idiosyncratic new sintetakkordy (synthetic chords). Analyzing Roslavets’s rigorous fifth piano sonata (1923) in comparison with its close aesthetic-technical cousin, Scriabin’s sixth (1911-12), I contrast Roslavets’s approach to large-scale and local harmony with that of his forebear. Tracing phrase- and macro-structure shows Roslavets at his most unique, and also makes clear his inspirations. This paper helps illuminate both his individuality and his indebtedness, encouraging a more holistic view of Roslavets and the other Russian avant-gardists who built their “formalist” structures on mystical foundations.

Rotational Arrays in the Music of Boulez

C. Catherine Losada (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music)


In the mid-1950s, Boulez radically transformed his approach to serialism through the development of new compositional techniques. Although the operation of multiplication was chief amongst these developments, and remained important to his approach for the remainder of his career, rotational arrays also played a significant role. Boulez’s multiplication techniques have recently received renewed scholarly attention, largely due to breakthroughs made possible by the availability of his compositional sketches (Decroupet 2006, Scotto 2014, Losada 2014, 2017, 2019, Salem 2014, 2018). Rotational arrays, which are linked to but distinct from multiplication techniques, have had a tangential role in these discussions. This paper outlines how rotational arrays appeared in varied formats throughout Boulez’s compositional career, as well as structural elements, both linked to and distinct from those underlying multiplication techniques, which are responsible for their important role in Boulez’s output. In this way, it sheds light on Boulez’s application of this technique in relation to Stravinsky’s more publicized usage.