R. Christopher Teichler, Composer

A Brief Reflection on "Simple Composition" by Charles Wuorinen

I recently finished reading Charles Wuorinen's text on the 12-tone system of composition, entitled Simple Composition. Some may find the title somewhat ironic, due to the complexity of the system! Originally published in 1979, the text is a survey of the techniques of 12-tone composition, laid out in a straightforward and accessible presentation. Wuorinen, himself a 12-tone composer, has a clear mastery and understanding of the materials he discusses, and communicates these effectively with clarity.

I am very glad to have read this book. While I am not a 12-tone composer (occasional forays here and there!), I came away with a greater understanding and appreciation of the technique, along with a better perspective of what the many possibilities that exist in using the technique on the micro and macro levels of composition. Wuorinen goes over the more familiar terms and concepts of 12-tone composition (the row, the matrix, retrograde, inversion, etc.), but also goes into detail on extensions of the system, including arrays, rotations, partitioning, multiplicative transformations and the time-point system. While written by a composer for other composers, Wuorinen's attention to detail and effective explanations will provide great insight to theorists and performers as well.

While I do not have any plans to become a 12-tone composer exclusively, I am happy to have read this book and gone through many of the exercises. In addition to the main focus on 12-tone writing, Wuorinen addresses and reminds of the fact that considerations of pitch organization are applicable to any method or philosophy of composition (voicing, balance, melodic and harmonic textures, rhythmic structures, etc). Therefore, this text is applicable for any composer or teacher of composition to enhance his or her craft, and better communicate with and guide composition students.

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