Category: Composers

Sonic Glue – Sameness And Difference

We have defined “sonic glue” to mean hard to find sonic connections between notes: in different voices, in successive chords, between non temporally adjacent notes within certain melodies.  These are often
overlooked, with the result that the piece does not flow or sound in the way we expect it to.

Here I want to mention some of these sonic connections in the Brahms, Rhapsodie, Op. 119 / 4 in E Flat Major.

#1

Measure 254, nine measures from the end of the piece.

On the first chord of the measure, there are three E-Flats
(ef4-ef5–ef6) which are the root notes of an E-Flat Minor Chord.

In the chord that begins the second beat of the measure, there are also three E-Flats to be found (ef4-ef5–ef6) which are the fifths of an A-Flat Minor Chord.

I continue following the trail of E-Flats through measures 255, 267, 257, and the beginning of m258.  They stand out to me regardless of what octave they sound in, and regardless of how many E-Flats show up in any given chord.

The only chord lacking an E-Flat is the dominant chord, B-flat Major, on the second beat of measure 257. 6 bars from the end of the piece.
If I now play those measures, and let my ear focus particularly on the reappearing sounds of the E-Flats, bringing the E-Flats out a little louder than the other notes of the chords (but just enough so that I
‘find’ them with my ear amid Brahms’ thick and active chordal texture) I will notice the effect of those E-Flats as glue linking together otherwise disparate chords.  They form a sonic glue to weld the passage together, amid the din and clutter of the notes.

I imagine a continuous spectrum made up of varying proportions of sameness and differentness among the successive sounds.  On one end of this spectrum, everything sounds the same as everything else.  On the
other end, everything sounds different than everything else.  Neither limit nor end, of the spectrum, is ever reached in normal music.  But the exact point along the spectrum which expresses at a given moment the ratio of the degree of sameness and difference can be made to alter somewhat, obviously by the composer, but as well
by the pianist.

In the present example, as a pianist, I am trying to move the cursor a little, if not a lot, over in the direction of sameness on this spectrum.

Having found this constant (E-Flats) amid the changing notes, a second quality emerges when I play the passage.  As the chords change that contain the E-Flats, the sounds of the E-Flats change as they leave one chord and enter the next.  Like the same dancer or actor on stage who is lit with spotlights of one color and then in another color.  We notice, in quick succession, that something important has changed in the quality of their appearance, followed a moment later by the recognition that despite the change of lighting aesthetic it is nonetheless the same person as before.

Such effects abound in this composition.  Cathedral bells are ringing, and the sound of one has not yet ended when the next sound begins. There is a sort of resonant din that remains constant throughout the recitation of the sequence of bell sounds.

Look for E-Flats in measures 258 – 262 (the end of the piece).  I can obsess over the E-Flats even though they appear in so many different positions in the chords and in such a variety of pitch ranges.

In general, in this piece, there is a combination of drone notes that refuse to change from chord to chord and notes that will vary widely from chord to chord, like a magician’s sleight of hand: things change but how did she do it – I saw no movement on her part.

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