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Three Character Set

Barry M Ford, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Three Character Set is a suite for winds in which each movement is based on the same three-note set. This three-note set, however, is transformed from movement to movement and within each movement as well, giving each of them a different character. The set used, in normal form, is 3–5 [0 1 6], known to many as the “Viennese trichord.” Despite the atonal associations with this trichord, each of the movements is tonally centered. ^ The Scherzo is organized in single movement sonata form. The use of the tri-chord is evident as it forms the main motive of the first theme area. It is also heavily used to derive the melody of the second theme. The development is fugal followed by a straightforward recapitulation and a brief coda. ^ The Lullaby is organized in a ternary form, makes use of what theorist Joseph Straus calls “a fuzzy transposition.” In this process, one or more of the notes of the source set is moved by half-step, resulting in a new, but related set. In the case of this movement not only was this process used, but the resultant sets were combined to form familiar quartal/quintal harmonies. This, along with heavy use of planar motion and the haunting poem, “Acalanto da Rosa,” by Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes (1913–1980), gives this movement its placid character. In the Badinage, the trichord is used in a variety of ways and undergoes various character changes within the movement itself. In one transformation the set is “overlapped” with another version of itself to form a four-note set often used by Bela Bartok, called a Z-cell. In another it is treated similarly to the process used in the second movement. The form of this movement is organic; however, unity is achieved by concentrated use of motivic and melodic material that, even as it changes in character, retains its basic shape by use of the same intervals. It culminates in a fugue that recalls the material from the introduction in combination with previously stated thematic material as if it were “summing up” of the “discussion.”^

Subject Area

Musical composition

Recommended Citation

Ford, Barry M, "Three Character Set" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10792280.