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David Conte, His Guitar Duo, and Boulanger

David Conte, His Guitar Duo, and Boulanger

7 June 2021 / William Anderson / On the Beat, composers

RSF support the Third Street Music School and Make Music New York

David Conte studied with Nadia Boulanger. Joan Forsyth, Piano Chair at the Third Street Music School, brought him from San Francisco to the East Village to give a masterclass and to celebrate his work. She also organized a wonderful marathon of music by Bouanger students for Make Music New York on the 21st of June of this year 2021. For this, the Anderson Fader Duo will perform Conte’s guitar duo, Of a Summer Evening.

A few points beg to be made.

I once asked Robert Morris what color pentatonic is. I said magenta. He said grey. He didn’t mean it in a derogatory way. What he meant was that it can become like water–like the accepted vertical intervals in species counterpoint. My magenta take was to do with how I feel about a blotch of pentatonic amidst, say for example, Wuorinen’s palette.

Elsewhere I celebrate the late development in Wuorinen’s music of a dynamism between the chromatic tetrachord and the magenta diatonic tetrachord.

The great advantage of this passage from Conte’s guitar duo Of a Summer Evening is that it is a foil for other sounds. It is diatonic with weight on seconds and ninths–

Transform those seconds.

The chord in measure 99 in guitar 1, I noticed, is pure augmented scale, 5/6ths of an augmented scale. D# is missing. The augmented scale has no major seconds. (!)

The augmented scale has no major seconds.

The flavor here is augmented scale and it doesn’t have to be pure to sustain the sound to a dramatic breaking point. In measure 103, for example, the second chord in guitar 1 is a bit of a hybrid, I think. It’s close to

D# E G G# B

and also close to

D# F# G Bb B

The chord in guitar 1 on downbeat of measure 104 pushes toward whole tone – B Db F G B, but we remember the French augmented 6 chord is a subset of the octotonic. The chord is whole tone, augmented scale, octotonic hybrid.

F G G# A# B C# D Eb

At the double bar, the spell breaks, and we are back to magenta, but it is freshened. The C natural in guitar two completes the diatonic septachord. The story of the major second count dwindling to zero and recovering toward the maximum 6 before reverting to the diatonic septachord’s 5 count. Some of us called this “interval vector music” and of course someone complained, but it’s apt.

Elswhere I’ve commented about pre-tonal and early tonal music where tritones pop out of the surface, glowing, and double leading tone cadences pop out even hotter.

Foregrounding sounds. Don’t they culminate in Beethoven’s sforzando spectrum?–

diatonic dissonances
simple chromaticism (secondary dominants)
augmented 6th chords

The augmented 6 chords are more powerful, grab us more forcefully, than secondary dominants.

I understand Boulanger taught the diminished scale, passing it on from Debussy and Stravinsky. Did she teach the augmented scale? Everyone abuses octotonic, the augmented scale feels a bit more exotic? Took me a long time to glom onto it.

And I like the way Conte negotiates this terrain. He does what fits him like a glove.

Boulanger said to Piazzola, “Do what you know”. What I see us (a preponderance of American composers) knowing and utilizing is a parsing of the interval cycles such as we see here in Conte’s guitar duo.

Broadly, I think of this as a Schoenberg op. 9 thing. Op. 9 has a theme for every interval cycle.

Schoengerg Op. 9 has a theme for every interval cycle.

We are less focused on modulation, more on families of tranpositions–how transpositions & modulations break into and out of such as these–

Diatonic with tritone
Whole Tone – transposition by even numbers is not really a transposition, keeps you where you are
Augmented Scale – transpostions by 4s keep you where you are
Diminished scale – transpostions by mulitples of 3 keep you in the same scale

And I’ve commented before that the Mystic chord dodges things by 1 semitone. It’s 5/6ths whole tone; 5/6ths diatonic; 5/6ths octotonic–very cool.

Rows narrowed the paths through these associations. So did the “set class” orientation that we see so clearly and beautifully in Harold Meltzer’s music. Composing, making tunes and phrases, etc.,narrows the paths, as we see in David Conte’s example.