Klang (Grade 4)
Klang was commissioned by Zackary Morton and the Moline (IL) High School Bands in celebration of the opening of their new performing arts center. The compositional process for the piece started from a rather unusual place for me…the title. I had asked Mr. Morton to see if there might be any “leftover” materials from the construction of the performing arts center that we might be able to use in the percussion section, thereby literally connecting the music with the new building. Although there wasn’t much, he sent me a video of himself striking some moderate length metal bars that he had found. Their “clanging” sound made me think immediately of the title Klang and a piece that would be a noisy celebration for Moline High School’s new facility. By spelling the word with a K, I was also able to establish a double meaning for the piece, as the word then refers to the compositional technique of klangfarbenmelodie (“tone color melody”), an approach that was pioneered by the early twentieth-century composers Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. This method involves splitting a single melodic line between several different instruments (tone colors), thereby adding an additional element of interest to the line.
Structurally, Klang is in an arch form, ABCBA, with all of the melodic and harmonic material derived from the mixolydian scale. The melody for the work begins with the seven notes of the Eb mixolydian scale, emphasizing groups of perfect fifths, Eb and Bb, Db and Ab, F and C and G. The melody is then constructed by playing this initial row, then playing its inversion, and then its retrograde, all of which are compositional techniques that were employed with great effect by Schoenberg and Webern. The outside sections of the work feature klangfarbenmelodie in its most obvious form, using a melody that moves quickly and aggressively. The B sections of the work use this same melodic line, but now in an augmented and more lyrical form, spelling the initial row and then the retrograde inversion. The inner C section of the work allows soloists from the ensemble to improvise over a Bb mixolydian scale, before gradually building toward a recapitulation of the opening materials and a resounding finish.