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Ethan Brown

Analysis of Density 21.5


The structure and organization of Density 21.5 can be found in the recycling of motivic
patters, isolated pitch set collections, prominent interval class collections, and dynamic contrasts.
Motifs, pitch set collections, dynamics and interval patterns are compositional tools that help the
listener identify transitions between phases as they move from one to the next. Each time a
motiv is presented, it is paired with a particular pitch set collection. The motivs and pitch
collections are not permanently assigned to one another, but it is clear that once a motiv ends the
pitch collection it was existing in moves to another collection and explores the next motiv. A
general observation of on the nature of the motivs reveals that they tend to obsess over particular
interval patterns between pitches. These compositional tools are all put to use at the beginning
of the composition.
The first phrase, motiv A, is presented in measures one and two. The pitch set collection
for the motiv is 03456 (C#, E, F, F#, and G.) Prominent intervals include 1,2, 5, and 6. With
variation the melody is repeated in measures 3-5 in the same pitch set collection. Prominent
intervals have been reduced to 1 and 6s with the occasional 2 appearing. The next phrase begins
in measure 6, the new pitch class collection, 02356 (G, A, Bb, C, Db), is similar to the previous
one which provides continuity between the two phrases. In addition to sharing similar pitch
collections, they are connected by smooth voice leadingthe G and C# which ended phrase one
are common tones with the new pitch set, and begin the following phrase. This phrase puts a
strong emphasis on the 03 interval between the G and Bb, in addition to the 03s there are two
02s one 06, and one 01 to provide contrast. The characteristic traits of motiv B include the
repetition of two pitch classes G and Bb and a large rising nature that moves from C# above
middle C to C natural 11 semitones away. The C crescendos into m. 9 to a double forte dynamic
which marks the next musical unit. In measure 9 motiv C is introduced, the two measure unit is
sparse but a powerful point in the composition. The only two notes in the passage are Db and C,
again two common tones from the previous collection. The two notes oscillate back and forth
for two measures, suddenly at m. 11, a triple forte D natural breaks the pattern and sustains for
over four beats. This D is particularly powerful for several reasons. The dynamic level is the
most obvious contributor to the emphasis placed on the D but there are several others factors.
Measure D marks the first time a note that was not a common tone with the previous pitch

collection begins a phrase; this makes the entrance of the new unit particularly jarring and
noticeable. This is also the first point in the composition in which a D has been played which
would interest individuals with perfect pitch, and it might trigger some deep subconscious sense
for listeners without perfect pitch.
The pitch collection in m. 1114 are further removed from the previous collections
which creates more interest and development in the composition. The collection is 012678 (D,
D#, E, G#,A,B) the interval which dominates this phrase is clearly 06, the interval is heard nine
times between m. 11 and 14. This gives the phrase a particularly developmental nature as the 06
intervals that were present throughout the beginning become more and more powerful. It is also
interesting to note which pitch classes Varese connects the 06 motion with. In m. 1-10 every
time a 06 is heard it is between C# and G. In m. 11 the rate of 06 does not only increase in
repetition, it begins to be transposed as well. In m. 11 the caviler D natural begins the
acceleration, the interval is heard 5 times in a row in less than two measures. The relation then
moves up to D# and A, which is heard 3 times, and a climax is reached in measure 13 when the
06 is transposed yet again to Bb and E. The E is the highest note in the piece up until that point
and is quite striking. Upon reaching this climax Varese feels he has presented enough new
material and new thematic section.
The new section begins by revisiting motivic material that was introduced at the
beginning of the composition. M. 14 begin with rhythmic and intervallic material which is
reminiscent of motiv A from m. 1 and 2. The pitch class collection has changed from 03456 to
01236 (D#, E, F, F#, G). These two collections are closely related however; they share the same
interval vector, 322111 this provides variation on surface levels, yet continues continuity. The
motiv has also been transposed up 11 semitones to begin on E, this reestablishes the common
tone relation between the pitch collections which was upset by the D natural. The phrase
continues in a manner similar to the first 5 measures, but Varese chooses to abandon the 06
intervals he explored so intensely and gives other intervals from the motiv more attention. The
intervals used are 01 and 02s, intervals which have been ignored for four measures. Veres also
ties the material back to the beginning by sustaining double forte a high G for four beats; this is
the same note which received an agogic accent in m. 2 and 3. In m. 18, Varese starts a new
phrase by receding to piano and falling far to a B two octaves lower. He reintroduces the motiv
C from m. 9 and 10. The new pitch collection is very similar to the previous measures. The

pitch set is transposed and two notes are added this creates the collection 0123456
(G#,A,A#,B,B#,C#,D). Since the relationships in the collections are so similar there is no need
to link the collections with a common tone. When the two collections are examined it is
apparent that they share no common tones, so this strategy is not possible to apply at this point in
the composition. Motiv C is varied for the next six measures and closes in m. 23.
As the material in m. 24 develops it begins to sound like the beginning of a new thematic
section in the composition. Immediately an increased use of space makes a dramatic contrast.
Each measure from 2428 has at least 2 full beats of restoften more. The space and low
dynamics create a moment of pause before the composition moves ahead to the development of
the B section. In addition to increased silence the percussive nature of the attacks notated creates
a new texture that contrasts with m. 123. Despite the new texture, the motiv in this phrase is
derived from previous material. Vareses strict recycling of old materials keeps the composition
for sounding too stream of conscious, or random. The motiv used in m. 2428 is derived from
motiv B in m.68. Extensive use of 03 skipping from E to C# is related to the G and Bbs
heard earlier. When further compared, m. 2428 appears to be an augmentation and rough
retrograde of 68. M. 68 features a 06 leap and 01 step from A to Bb before the 03s. Acting
as a reflection to this pattern, motive 2428 first presents the 03s, then a 01 from C# to D, and
finally 06 leaps with D and G#s.
The B section continues developing in this same general pattern. Motives are recycled
and put in new pitch collections, as if Varese is playing dress up with these motives he created.
The variations become more and more distant as the variations become more creative. The
distant relation to the previously heard material helps to make the music in the B section fresh.
The B section keeps a strong contrast with the A section by exploring extremely high registers
not heard before for an extended period of time (m.3226). Verese also indicates two tempo
changes during the D section m. 29 quarter note equals 60, m. 32 quarter equals 72, m. 36
quarter equals 60.
In measure 41, the tempo returns to 72, and a very familiar quote of motiv A appears.
The beginning motiv being played so clearly triggers a recall to the beginning of the composition
and suggests that another A section is being presented. Again various motivs are presented and
transformed. To end the composition Varese adapts the 06 leap and rising motion of motiv B. It
is interesting to note that the last two notes of the composition are F and B, a 06, which was

certainly an important interval class throughout the composition. In addition to ending the piece
with the F and B Varese unifies the composition through a 06 interval by starting the
composition on an F and finishing it on a B. When themes are able to connect the large scale
structure with small scale ideas they can make powerful endings. Varese was able to do this is a
simple, clean way which only confirms his skill as a composer.
Quartet for the End of Time
Mvmt 1
The first movement of Messiaens Quartet for the End of Time is an intricate
composition. The compositional organization and structure of the piece is subtle, parts of it can
be rather straightforward to follow once they have been discovered. At an initial glance, the first
movement Litugie de Cristal, seems very harmonically and rhythmically dense. Amongst all of
the rhythmic and intervallic complexities, the cello plays floating parallel fourths throughout the
entire composition. The simple ratio of the fourths help them cut through the dense and complex
textures. Thus the simplicity of the cello makes it a good part to begin investigating what is
happening in the music.
The pitch collection the cello plays the entire movement are rather limited compared to
other parts. The bottom voice of the cello is playing pitch set 02468 (Bb,C,D,E,F#). This is a
subset of the whole tone scale, and mode 1 of Messiaens modes of limited transposition. The
top cello voice is the same pitch class collection transposed up a 05. Presentation of the pitches
is repeated in order throughout the entire composition (C,E,D,F#,Bb). These repeating pitches
are matched with a rhythm pattern that repeats every 17.5 beats. Messiaen treats these patterns
similar to colora and tessitura in medieval music. The notes and rhythms occur at a 3:1 ratio,
every three times the notes are cycled through, the rhythm will cycle once. Thus after 17.5 beats,
the colora (pitch collection) and tessitura (rhythms) align, but metrically they are displaced.
After 33 beats they align again in the correct metric orientation they were presented in.
The piano part is organized in the same manner as the cello, though it is a bit more
complex. Messiaen wrote harmonies for the piano that repeat every 13 beats, and a colora that
repeats every 22 beats. The least common multiple between these is 286 beats, that is how long
it would take the piano part to realign, and since the movement is only 129 beats in total duration
the accompaniment cannot possibly complete one revolution. Such impossibilities and mysteries
had an important influence on Messiaen, and are certainly at play here in the composition. An

even further possibility is for the accompaniment of the cello to align with the piano. The least
common multiple between repetitions of the piano and cello is 858 beats. At the indicated
performance tempo 858 beats would take a very long time to reach. Thus Messiaens
introduction to The Qurtet for the End of Time is in itself designed to be endless. This is an
interesting and ironic paradox that surely as a composer Messiaen intended to share with his
audience.
Other instruments are playing modes on limited transposition throughout the composition
as well. The violin plays a transposition of Messiaens mode 6 for a while, but an added E
natural at times suggests another scale. The Clarinet parts melodies are derived from mode 7.
The piano part has harmonies from mode 7, but also modulates to other transpositions of modes.
Mvmt V.
Movement V of the composition is slightly more straightforward than the first movement.
It features only piano and cello. The piano part in m. 36 uses major triads related by root
motion of minor thirds. These add up to create an octatonic scale, which is Messiaens second
mode of limited transposition. The cello pitch collection corresponds with the accompaniment.
The melody in the first ten measures is the same half whole octatonic scale based on E. Much of
the material throughout the A section is derived from themes and ideas established in the first ten
measures of the movement. The B section begins after a long hold 026 chord and a D sustained
by the cello in measure 22. This feels like a cadential moment for the composition. Logically, a
short contrasting B section follows the cadence. After the B section, an E major triad
reminiscent of the beginning of the composition returns to the accompaniment. A B pedal is
sustained below the E triad as well as other chords for 6 measures. This B is functioning similar
to a dominant pedal in tonal music. It eventually descends stepwise to an E, which started the
composition, and was clearly a pitch class of priority. The chords the piano cycles through on its
way down to E are derived from the same scale as the beginning of the composition. They are
actually the same chords revoiced, and a C# major triad has entered the progression as well.
Below the E triad in the piano the cello sustains an E which provides a great deal of resolution to
the entire composition.