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

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Chapter 4: Whitacre’s Added-Tone Sonorities
Both the chord structure and the chord type are theoretical constructs that retain
information about a given sonority with a minimal amount of interpretation on the part of
the analyst. The chord structure is a basic identification of the precise intervallic ordering
of pitches present in the chord. As we have seen, Whitacre uses a vast number of chord
structures in his music, lending his compositional language richness and variety. These
chord structures may be grouped into families of related chord structures via the chord
type. The chord types used by Whitacre point to a fairly diatonic sound-world, one
which avoids clusters of semitones in favor of chords based on the diatonic, acoustic, and
octatonic scales.
There is more to say, however, about the experience of listening to Whitacre’s
music. Because of the diatonic setting, the emphasis on seven-note collections, and the
lack of semitone clusters, listeners may be drawn to a hearing of Whitacre’s music as
more or less tonal. If a listener interprets Whitacre’s music as tonal, he or she will not be
content simply to identify the chord type of a given sound-moment, as one might in
atonal music. Rather, the listener will attempt to make sense of the chords in relation to a
perceived tonic, as in more traditional tonal music. One way a listener may accomplish
this is by interpreting each of Whitacre’s chords as a diatonic triad with added tones, an
interpretation that I call the added-tone sonority.