Analysis of Sensations
by Dr Yitzhak Yedid
Discussion of Sensations
Sensations is a work for piano trio in one movement and its duration is 14 minutes. As one of the compositions for Group A it is composed with the assumption that its performers do not necessarily have expertise in classical Arabic music, Arabic-influenced Jewish music nor in improvisation. The work consists of eleven main sections of eight different compositional techniques. Within my folio Sensations is exceptional in that it is the only work in which the individual sections are not titled. Each section has been created with its own compositional method, and some methods are applied several times in different sections in the work.
The sections extend over the following bars: the 1st section in bars 1-11; the 2nd section in bars 12-14; the 3rd section in bars 15-21; the 4th section from bar 22 until the second beat of bar 25; the 5th section from the third beat of bar 25 until the end of bar 26; the 6th section in bars 27-37; the 7th section in bars 38-40; the 8th section in bars 41-53; the 9th section in bars 54-69; the 10th section in bars 70-76; the 11th section in bars 77-88.
The Use of Methods
The 1st and the 11th sections are perpetuum mobile toccata and employ similar approaches and musical elements. I was influenced by the Arabic popular folk dance Debka,1 and translated aspects of this dance into the work. I looked at the configuration of dance steps of Debka, and the way its dancers stomp their feet on the ground creating rhythmic patterns, accents and percussive attacks. The 1st section (bars 1-11) is written for solo piano, and the 11th section (bars 77-88), the concluding section of the work, is written for all three players. The 1st section can be perceived as a Taqsim (a solo instrumental introduction) influenced by a Debka. In this section, I have composed a demisemiquaver line based on the Athar Kurd penta-chord (D, E flat, F, G sharp, A). In order to obtain a non-legato articulation and a percussive attack, the demisemiquavers have been divided between the left hand and the right hand so that each hand plays one or occasionally two notes before the other hand enters again. The pianist plays this using a single finger on each hand (or two when there are two notes). The combination of single fingering and a fast tempo creates a non-legato percussive attack. The division between the hands, which departs from conventional Western practice, is meant to lead the pianist to perform as if his/her fingers were drum sticks. This effect depends on the quick single finger lifting that is required to play the notes in time.
The 1st section (Figure 5.1.) uses repetitive notes and accents to build tension. The accents, deriving from to the Debka steps, create groups of three and four (bars 3, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11). The accelerando in bars 5-8 and in bars 9-11 is another way of building tension and could be seen as imitating the ecstatic movements of a dancer who performs solo whilst being surrounded by a circle of dancers.
1 Debka is a popular form of dance in the Arab world. In Arabic Debka is "stamping of the feet”. Debka is widely performed at weddings and celabrations. It is a line dance where the leader of the Debka heads the line and alternates between facing the audience and the other dancers. The leader twirls a handkerchief or string of beads, while the rest keep the rhythm. The dancers also use vocalizations to show energy and to maintain the beat.
The 11th section (bars 77-88) develops the musical idea that appears in the 1st section within a solo line. Figure 5.2. (bar 77) shows how this solo piano line from the beginning has been orchestrated for the trio. In bars 83-87 (Figure 5.3.) another development occurs; the three instruments move chromatically in parallel, while also creating a counterpoint of accents and moving into a high register and the end of the work.
The approach of hand divisions which is employed here to achieve a non-legato articulation can also be seen in Out to Infinity (for solo harp) and in a few places in Arabic Violin Bass Piano Trio. Using a similar compositional technique and similar musical elements at the beginning and at the end of a work or a movement is a recurring structure in my works.
The 2nd and the 10th sections correspond to the Samai Thaqil rhythmic pattern of classical Arabic music. Samai Thaqil (Figure 5.4.) is in 10/8, and its division is 3+2+3+2. The words Samai Thaqil are Turkish, Samai means Saz Semai and Thaqil means heavy or slow. The 2nd section extends from bars 12-14, and the 10th section extends from bars 70-76. Figure 5.5. shows the first two bars (12-13) of the 2nd section. Here, the violin plays a line of double stops in a pattern of ten demisemiquavers (a crochet and two demisemiquavers) that corresponds to the 10/8 of Samai Thaqil. The division of the ten demisemiquavers (3+3+2+2) is based on a variation of the 3+2+3+2 of the Samai Thaqil, and the replication of the rhythmic of the grouping occurs at the level of the beat as opposed to the Samai Thaqil that uses 10/8 as a meter. The tempo of the 10/8 Samai Thaqil is between a crochet equals from 100 to 150, while in my composition a crochet beat equals between 70-80 resulting in a semiquaver tempo of between 560-640. The 10th section (bars 70-76) first alters and then reassembles the 3+3+2+2 division that has been employed in the 2nd section. Bar 70 (Figure 5.6.) is the start of a stretto canon between the violin and the cello. The cello begins the canon on the 9th demisemiquaver and before the violin completes its pattern of 10 demisemiquavers, and therefore creates a rhythmic counterpoint. The music continues alternating between rhythmic unison and rhythmic counterpoint, this is followed by a solo in the violin using the division that occurred at the beginning. Creating variations of common Arabic rhythmic patterns recurs throughout my folio.
The 3rd section (bars 15-21) and the 5th section (bar 25.3-26) show the use of microtonal improvisation as previously described in Chapter 2. Here this type of improvisation imitates the human voice. It can be seen in the cello part where the cellist is instructed to imitate the sound of an old women weeping. The 5th section follows on from the 4th section without a musical transition, and uses similar musical material as the 3rd section.
The 4th section (bars 21-25.2) resembles a classical Arabic melody. The melody is presented in a fast tempo (crochet equals 120) and is performed in octaves. This section also starts without a musical transition from the previous section. The 4th section finishes on an A (at the end of the second beat in bar 25), which is the starting note of the 5th section.
The 6th and the 7th sections are connected and could be regarded as one section. The 6th section (bars 27-37) employs a slow harmonic progression that creates a melancholic mood. The transition to the 7th section (bars 38-4o) occurs in bar 38. The 7th section (Figure 5.7.) uses improvisation influenced to some extent by Arabic music as described in Chapter 3 (3.3. “Methodologies of Improvisation that are indirectly influenced by Arabic Music”).
The 8th section (bars 41-53) resembles a Piyyut in a fast tempo (quaver equals 120). This melody combines aspects of the Sephardi-Mizrahi modal system (Maqamat), together with modes of the Ashkenazi prayers as previously described in Chapter 4 (4.3.3. “The Inclusion of Aspects of Modal Systems of Jewish music”). The 9th section (bars 54-69) contains microtonal articulations (glissandi in combination with vibrato) in order to produce a sound without fixed pitches. This technique has also been previously described in Chapter 2, 2.3.2. “Microtonal Pitches Employed as Ornamentation”.