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

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Chapter 2: Whitacre’s Chord Structures
When singing or listening to Whitacre’s choral pieces, I am continually struck by
the beauty of each individual sound-moment. In my experience, individual vocal lines
function not as melodies so much as a string of pitches with which Whitacre creates his
uncommon and, to my ears, breathtakingly beautiful sonorities. Naturally, as a music
theorist I want to know why Whitacre’s sonorities should move me as they do. In order
to better understand Whitacre’s use of sound within his choral compositions, I closely
studied Whitacre’s entire output for a cappella choir. I chose to limit my investigation to
a cappella choral pieces because, to my ear, Whitacre’s sonorities are emphasized when
timbral distinctions do not detract from the unity of sound. Additionally, as noted by
Owen, Whitacre’s use of slow tempi, homophonic texture, indistinct melody, and
relatively steady rhythm enhances the importance of sonority in his compositions.
Within these a cappella pieces, then, I documented each chord, eventually forming a
massive database representing the entirety of Whitacre’s harmonic vocabulary for a
cappella choir. I strove to capture the details of each sound-moment as fully as possible
and accomplished this by developing a new notational device, the chord structure.
Methods and Notation
In developing my database, I was interested Whitacre’s chord structures only in
those passages of his compositions which clearly emphasize sonority above all else.
Though this describes most of Whitacre’s music, some of his pieces also include passages