A Far Tower: listening guide and structure

A Far Tower is constructed in 8 sections that follow upon each other mostly without break:

Cycle I-  Lute I-  Cycle II-  River-  Zither/Temple Bells-  Cycle III-  Lute II-  Cycle IV

Cycle I begins quietly as a strange, repetetive, possibly meaningless pulse figure emerges out of nothing.  The warm sound of a clarinet appears, mixing with that of a flute. The strange pulses continue with cold cymbals rolls and silences.

Lute I begins with sudden bell-sounds from the crotales and a rhythmic dance pattern in triplets on the drums. Plucked strings and percussion imitate the Central Asian lutes and drums depicted in the Buddhist cave paintings from Tang Dynasty Dunhuang- the famous oasis town on the edge of the Gobi Desert which was the gateway through which Central Asian culture poured into China during that period. Melodies begin to swirl like the long ribbon sleeves of dancers seen in those paintings as the sensuous dance builds.

Cycle II emerges without warning and sucks the energy from the dance leaving the flute alone still maintaining its fluttering.

River begins with rolled chords on the marimba, joined by the violin and flute nin a watery textural counterpoint. The clarinet once again brings its warm voice with a long, rhapsodic aria later joined by the cello. The movement rises in pitch, energy and complexity until it arrives at a point of transcendent stillness.

Zither/Temple Bells uses the cello to imitate the sound of the famous spiritual zither of ancient China: the Guqin- beloved by Daoists, Buddhists and Confucian literati alike. Mixing glissando with pizzicato, the cello evokes a meditative air, joined by the low register flute imitating the famous end-blown Chinese flute: Xiao. The violin accompanies with a hammered dulcimer effect by dangling and jingling a pencil eraser band between two strings. Woodblock and vibraphone evoke the sounds of a Daoist or Buddhist temple, deep in the mountains.

Cycle III suddenly begins without warning, and brings a harsh flurry of percussive strokes and leads directly into:

Lute II which recapitulates the Lute movement earlier but now inflected with some of the hysteria of Cycle III.

Cycle IV emerges roughly out of Lute II and ends the dance. Bells and Zither are briefly heard, and then fade away as the Cycle music returns one last time and fades slowly to silence.

Musical Analysis

The 12-note scale is divided into three sets in each movement:

a “five plus one” “hexachord” consisting of the Confucian pentatonic scale plus one half step,

a four note “tetrachord” set, and

a two-note “diad” set.

The pitches in these sets change as the piece progresses to produce four different musical characteristics for the Cycle, Lute, River, and Zither/Temple Bell sections.

showing changing pitches

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