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music matters: 1

05/26/2011
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Hello! I’m Corey, the composer for the show. After we performed the extract, I was asked to talk a bit about how I’d put the music together; and so I thought I’d write down some of my processes here, for anyone that’s interested. There’s a smidgeon of music theory, but you should be fine!

The first thing to bring up is that the music is researched: it wasn’t created on a whim or just to go with a poem. Each piece is connected with various bits of musical knowledge as well as aiming to describe a subtext for the poem.

The root of most of the music is the use of Lydia’s name, which has to be the best bit of luck for a composer! The modern Lydian scale, which in turn comes from the medieval Lydian mode is embedded in almost every piece. If you have access to a piano/keyboard then you can play it: start from an f and play all the white notes up to the next f; then go back down the same way. You get a sequence of notes like this:

f g a b c’ d’ e’ f’ (e’ d’ c’ b a g f)

In medieval music this mode had a relation called the Hypolydian: although it finishes on the same note, it starts three notes lower.

c d e f g a b c’ d’ e’ f’ (e’ d’ c’ b g f)

The medieval modes are related in name [but not sound] to the Ancient Greek Lydian modes, but had the same emotional connotations: that of lamentation and sorrow (Hypolydian); or moderation and joy (Lydian). Lovers of Plato’s Republic will remember the critique of these harmonies.

Thinking about those modes led me to connect Lydia’s writing with another mode: the Phrygian. Republic identifies this with instruction and obedience; but in medieval music, it’s known as a harsh, cruel mode. The Phrygian looks like this:

e f g a b c’ d’ e’ (d’ c’ b a g f e)

But the Hypophrygian reveals love, leisure and adulation:

b,c d e f g a b c’ d’ e’ (d’ c’ b a g f e)

and in simple terms what happens over the course of the show is this:

Lydian → Hypolydian → Phrygian → Hypophrygian → Lydian

There’s slightly more to it than that of course, but using this framework gave me a flexible but meaningful way to construct the music and connect with the poems as they were being delivered.

I think that’s probably enough for one post, but I may make another as rehearsals allow.

Here’s a helpful link to the medieval modes.

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