[Smt-talk] Missing Theory Component

Victor grauer victorag at verizon.net
Sun Jun 1 08:05:39 PDT 2014

Dimitar Ninov wrote:

"General observations on a melodic curve may be offered very cautiously, but no rule should be made out of any of them."

I agree. I remember a composition class with Darius Milhaud, when Milhaud criticized the famous English Horn melody in the Franck symphony 2nd movement for being directionless. He complained that the melody kept returning to the same note, which for him made it  monotonous, if not pointless. I'd never thought of that before, so I did learn something from Milhaud's observations. But I found it difficult to agree, because the melody had always struck me (and so many others) as remarkably beautiful. When I later discussed this with Joseph McGrath, my composition teacher at Syracuse U., he said the melody expanded outward from the repeated note rather than moving in a single direction as with most melodies, and that was what made it work.

In any case as I see it, musical composition is very different from music theory. Although the study of theory can certainly help composers it can also hinder them by introducing inhibitory factors, such as "rules of good melodic writing." Which is why I have always recommended the study of composition prior to the study of theory. Theory should never be seen as rules for composition, but rather a kind of gymnasium where one goes to strengthen ones musical muscles.

Victor Grauer
Pittsburgh, PA USA

On Sunday, June 1, 2014 7:08 AM, "Ninov, Dimitar N" <dn16 at txstate.edu> wrote:

>Dear Steve,
>You wrote:
>"What I should have said was that they do not provide instructions on how to write a double period that is attractive, coherent, and memorable, with proper control of cadences, chord progression, and non-harmonic tones." 
>I agree with you on the ideal goal, but I am afraid that you are talking about instructions on how to have talents and to become a very good composer. Because it is only good composers who can fulfill this task naturally, with no trace of forceful and dry theoretical efforts, with no sign of strain or molded brains. I am thinking of Mozart or Bach, among many others.
>I think that there should be no instructions in any theory book on of "how to compose a good melody", because, from what I have read so far, I concluded for myself that these instructions have enormous deficiencies and undermine student's creativity. General observations on a melodic curve may be offered very cautiously, but no rule should be made out of any of them. For example, a great number of memorable melodies repeat a focal point either as a high or low climax, there are many examples of approaching a large interval (6 and more) from the same direction, not to speak of a middle range interval, and there are phrases which are supported by harmonic interaction which does not necessarily form a cadence. Also, there are occasional mono-functional phrases (such as the first half of the opening of Rondo a la Turka), and many other subtle nuances which make it superfluous to write directions on a good melody. Good melody will come with years of practice
 and personal observati
>ons which, sometimes, go opposite to the dry and inadequate instructions in many books, whose authors only reiterate what others have written before them. I am appalled at the perspective on grading students on their abilities to write a good melody, because this gift is nothing like learning how to avoid parallel and hidden perfect intervals, crossing, and overlapping. It comes directly from above.
>With best regards,
>Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
>School of Music
>Texas State University
>601 University Drive
>San Marcos, Texas 78666
>Smt-talk mailing list
>Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
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