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A pitch -class set -theory analysis of three organ works by Pamela Decker: "Toccata", "Nightsong" and "Ostinato Dances", and "Kairos"

Chad Nathan Winterfeldt, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Since the 1990s, the organ works of Pamela Decker have attracted considerable attention from performers and concert audiences in the United States. Decker, who is Associate Professor of Organ, Harpsichord, and Music Theory at the University of Arizona, composes in a highly individual style and develops her musical ideas in a consistent and identifiable manner. Three compositions, written early in Decker's career, are the subject of this analysis. These works are Toccata (1987), Nightsong and Ostinato Dances (1992), and Kairos (1996). ^ This analysis focuses upon Decker's harmonic and melodic language, relying heavily upon the methods of pitch-class set theory. Also considered are the formal procedures she employs and her idiomatic writing for the organ, with regard to registration and musical texture. Each composition is treated separately, in chronological order. A comparison of these works leads to several general conclusions about her compositional style. ^ Each of the three works in this analysis demonstrates a high degree of cohesion and unity based upon a small amount of motivic material developed contextually within each piece. These motives, drawn mostly from the primary themes of each piece, interact linearly, transform into new figures, and provide the basis for much of the harmonic language in each work. Because Decker's melodic formations are chromatic and disjunct and her harmonic language is dissonant and non-functional, some elements of pitch-class set theory, as developed by theorist Allen Forte, are very useful for the discussion of motivic relationships and transformation in Decker's music. In particular, the relationships of sets through transposition and inversion, and the projection of sets, by which pitches are separated in time but connected by salient musical characteristics, are two important considerations in this document. ^

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Recommended Citation

Winterfeldt, Chad Nathan, "A pitch -class set -theory analysis of three organ works by Pamela Decker: "Toccata", "Nightsong" and "Ostinato Dances", and "Kairos"" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3142108.