Download Added-Tone Sonorities in the Choral Music of Eric Whitacre

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Chapter 5: Added-Tone Sonorities in Analysis - The Opening Phrase
The opening phrase of a common-practice tonal work generally functions as an
orientation to the home key. Classical idioms include oscillating between tonic and
dominant chords, moving through a complete harmonic progression over a tonic pedal,
and presenting a melody that clearly outlines the tonic triad. Whitacre states that, like
traditional tonal compositions, his opening phrases serve as an orientation or “primer” to
the piece at hand.141 If Whitacre’s music is to be understood as tonal, this primer should
include an orientation to the home key. Is this the case with his opening phrases? How
can added-tone sonorities, which are fundamentally more ambiguous than pure triads,
effectively suggest a tonal center? How does Whitacre use added-tone sonorities to
enhance his opening phrases?
This chapter works to answer these questions through analysis and commentary
focusing on the opening phrases of several of Whitacre’s works. The analyses in this and
subsequent chapters use added-tone sonorities to draw comparisons between Whitacre’s
compositional syntax and that of common-practice tonality. Our discussion will begin
with Whitacre’s more harmonically conventional opening gestures and then move to
music that is more harmonically distinctive.
Whitacre, interview by Hairel, p. 133.