Robert Morris Composition with Pitch-Classes


1) This book is clearly not intended for the novice (whether of music thoery or of composition) and Morris states the fact openly in his Preface. Morris takes as understood and read:

2)(a) Rahn, John. Basic Atonal Theory. New York: Longman, 1980.

(b) Wuorien, Charles. Simple Compisiton. New York: Longman, 1979.

(c) Forte, Allen. Structure of Atonal Music. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973.

(d) Whittlich,Gary E. "Sets and Ordering Proceduers in Twentieth Century Music." in Gary Whittlich ed. Aspects of Twentieth Century Music. Englewood Cliffs,New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1975

3) Not only does he takethe above sources as understood but he also suggests three books for elementary algerbra so that we might brush up on the necessary math skills. There, once you have read seven other books, you should be ready to dive head first into Morris -- That's right (not feet first) head first , you don't have to worry about shallow water, this stuff is deep!!!!

4) As well as this being a very difficult book to penetrate it is geared towards a specific audience, namely: composers. However, it is difficult to tell whether this book will be more valuable for composers than theorists.

5) Throughout this book, Morris deals with four related concerns:

1. how pitch-class entities are related to pitch and other dimensions of music

2. kinds of hearable relations that are obtained among pitch-classes

3. how such designs are interpreted to produce reasonable and effective music

6) Chapter One introduces the reader to these issues in the context of music theory and composition. Chapter Two presents a classification of pitch-spaces for music. Chapter Three introduces tha basic concepts and relations in the literature: pitch-class and order operators, intersection and complementation, set classes, the complement theorum etc. The fourth chapter covers relationsamong pcs based on sets of both pitch and order operators. Here Morris is the first person to spell out the relations between ordering, aggregate complementation, and pitch-set structure based on groups ofoperators acting on pitch-classes. Chapter Five and Six deal with the construction and properties of two-dimensional arrays.

7) The book provides three Appendices the first being a Set-Class Table which includes: Name (Prime Form), M/MI (the set-class whose members are related under transposition by n in p- or pc-space), Z (tells whether or not the transposition has a unique interval-class vector),ICV (Interval Class Vector), Invariance Vector and CINT1 (the cyclic adjacent interval array of Richard Chrisman of the prime form of the SC). Incidentally, it takes Morris two pages of explination just to explain the first Appendix. The second appendix lists the cycles of the TTOs (one of the 48 canonical twelve-tone operators) and the final appendix is the Automorphism Classes of Subgroups of /U/ (the group of 48 TTOs)

8) By combining pitch-class set theory and twelve-tone composition with equal tempered systems, Morris shows how musical utterances may be derived from abstract principles. In his book, Morris achieves a consolidation of many diverse ideas about pc structures contributed by composers and theorists such as: Babbit, Forte, Lewin, Westergard, Rahn, Alphone, and Storr over the last forty years. Thge constructs that Morris adopts were designed originally as general tools for analysis. Morris uses these tools to generate pitch-class material for composition. By doing so, Morris de-emphasizes the analytical implications of the theories he is drawing from. On the other hand, Morris succeeds in proving that there is much more to the structural and therefore compositional possiblities of pitch-class composition than outlined in Forte's analysis-oriented schemes. The music which Morris is giving instructions on composing tends to be mostly polyphonic because that is the kind of music her prefers to compose.

9) Unfortunately there are a lot of problems with this book, the primary one being its elitist attitude. The book is so dense that only a small circle of already well accomplished composers and analysts will find it of any use. The higher mathematics in this book entail profuse jargon and abbreviations. Sometimes Morris even mentions mathematical concepts which he fails to develop or apply to his theory. Aesthetic issues and philosophy of creation, which are presumably very important to composition, are replaced with a science of making.

10) Morris' book primarily explores the abstract world of pitch class sets for their own sake. Connections are made with mathematics and logic more so than with real music. This book is lacking in analytical application but is rich in scientific theory.

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