Oliver Chandler


Perhaps guitar composers innovated in the field of twelve-tone composition because they were not really aware of what their colleagues, continental or domestic, were doing? They had latched onto an abstract, theoretical principle, detached from the rich Second-Viennese repertory that had given it life, and then developed it in their own way and for their own ends. Chapter 2 suggests that this narrative would be too reductive. It argues that the opening Poco lento from ApIvor’s Variations, Op. 29, demonstrates the composer’s sensitivity to, and detailed understanding of, the ways in which Schoenberg used intervallic symmetry as an ideal that structured the unfolding of an entire dodecaphonic piece—by means of that ideal’s being hinted at, frustrated, and then ultimately realized.

As the first variation develops, ApIvor uses the collectional invariance afforded by hexachordal combinatoriality to manipulate row order, thus facilitating the eventual realization (after a thwarted attempt) of the previously inchoate symmetrical potential of its two constituent hexachords. This aspect of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique—dynamic and developmental—has only recently received extensive treatment in scholarly literature (as in the work of Jack Boss). That ApIvor had potentially recognized its importance as early as 1958 suggests the inherent interest of the Variations as a document of Anglophone Schoenberg reception. Furthermore, the variation's symmetrical solution—a new ordering of the basic row—is wonderfully idiomatic, consisting of a sliding-sixths handshape and open strings. Far from the adoption of a modernist idiom forcing the guitar to behave as if it were something other than itself, twelve-tone denouement here coincides exactly with the music’s becoming most guitaristic. The Variations might thus be thought to represent an important point of synthesis between the history of musical modernism and the history of guitar composition.

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