06.30.10

Hello, I’m one of the newer composers of Melos Music. I began writing music when I was fourteen (which was 23 years ago now—good grief)—my first piece, as far as I can recall, was called “The Mourning Dove,” for solo horn, a whole minute long (I began taking horn lessons in the fourth grade, which was how I learned to read music). But even then, I knew that my main focus in composition was melody, which to me has always been one of the most mysterious elements of music. What is it about a melody that makes us want to listen to it again and again? There’s no formula for writing a tune, but there’s something about a succession of certain notes and the underlying harmonies that moves us indescribably. I think this is also why tonality took such a hold on me from an early age, and although I suppose I have written some music that lacks a clear tonal center, it’s that moving away from and returning to a resting point, a building up and release of tension that has always grounded my sense of melody. Perhaps it’s best to cite an example here: the “Laudate Dominum” from Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, which can be heard at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDmsInSvgPA&feature=related Mozart just spins forth these lyrical lines above a gentle, arpeggiated accompaniment. He thinks in terms of very long phrases here—the first sense of closure is at 1:26, where we’ve modulated from the home key of F major to C major. Then another strophe follows, leading back to F major at 2:31, where the soprano’s cadence is elided with the chorus’ reiteration of the soprano’s melody. But it’s the next elision, just when the chorus finishes its strophe, that’s the most sublime moment of the piece: a deceptive cadence at 3:48, where the soprano’s sustained F (just a single note!) draws forth the melody ever further, on the word “amen”. It’s as if Mozart can’t bear to let this prayer end, and closure in the home key is only reached (with no elision here between the soprano and the chorus) at 4:12. I think this long-range building-up and release of tension is only possible through these long, sustained lines of melody, and a distinctly homophonic texture (that is, melody with accompaniment).

I’ve always felt that listeners today still need to hear melodies—granted, these can come in many different forms, and melody is inseparable from rhythm, too, I think (the undulating accompaniment of the Mozart is essential to the structure of the piece). Perhaps this is why popular music took such a hold over the public in the course of the 20th century—melody just couldn’t be perceived in so much of 20th century “serious” music (don’t get me started on how no one can really hear a tone-row). It also seems to me that melody is of great importance in non-Western music (what little I know about it, anyway). Is the importance of melody something that 21st century composers are starting to rediscover? I hope so. I’m sure there are many different ways of defining “melody” and it can come up in all sorts of musical contexts, but I think this is at least a discussion worth having. Also, I have to sing the “Laudate Dominum” at a wedding this Saturday (an octave lower than Emma, thank you very much).
– David Carpenter

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