Compositional Concepts in Jennifer Higdon’s String Poetic

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2023-05-15

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Abstract

In the 2000s, the composer Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) wrote chamber pieces that connect music with other forms of art. During that period, Higdon composed String Poetic (2006) for violin and piano, and her inspiration drew upon the violinist Jennifer Koh’s love for poetry. This essay explores the compositional concepts and musical techniques used in String Poetic. Higdon differentiates the purpose and mood in the five movements, with contrasting aesthetics of musical poetry gathering in a single work. This essay draws on several analytical tools for investigating musical techniques in the movements; they include contour theory, the theory of pandiatonicism, and the concept of metrical dissonance. The first and fifth movements are organized around contour motives. The second movement involves pandiatonicism and emphasizes fifths. The third and fourth movements control rhythm and pacing, although in opposite ways; metric dissonance and minimalism create the identity of the fourth movement. The near-identical structures of the first and fifth movements complete a palindrome form for the whole piece, as the extended pedal tones and other added measures of the fifth movement build excitement. Higdon’s choices of timbre and articulation emphasize the structures and compositional directions of the different movements. This essay further explores how Higdon’s program notes for String Poetic may provide the blueprint for the piece’s musical sounds and compositional techniques. Analyzing the piece reveals Higdon’s intentions in creating intricate and detailed imagery, showing her prowess as a contemporary composer.

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Keywords

Jennifer Higdon, String Poetic, Contour theory, Pandiatonicism, Metrical dissonance

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