Brenton Broadstock Symphony No. 2 Stars in a Dark Night
Sample Response II
By Linda Burchett
Discuss how tension is created in the work. In your answer, refer to only 2 musical elements from the following list:
- Tone colour
- Blend of instrumental voices
The sharp, biting TC of the trumpets with straight mutes in the opening of the excerpt creates an uncomfortable atmosphere, contributing to the tense character
Jenn Gillan: I like that you’ve not only used a few tone colour words but you’ve also given reason for that tone colour. I also like that you’ve used headings to make it clear what you’re discussing! Well done.
The dark, rumbling timpani clashes greatly with the shrill, piercing upper woodwinds. This contrast in tone colours creates an overall conflicting TC, generating tension
The ringing timbre of the vibraphone adds another layer of colour to the excerpt, creating complexity and adding to the tension
The harsh TC of the brass at the beginning of the excerpt contrasts with the dark, mellow TC of the cello’s semiquaver runs, adding to the conflict in the excerpt and further contributing to the tense character
Jenn Gillan: All well chosen examples. You compare Tone colours, give an idea of how they’re created. The only thing I’d say is missing is how tone colour changes within particular instruments and perhaps how the overall approach to tone colour helps create character. For example, tension is created through increasing tone colour from warmer to harsher sounds. Also through sudden, unexpected changes of tone colour which happen frequently. If you think of a tranquil character this approach is usually the opposite: stable, predictable, when changes are made they are slow and gentle which aids this character.
The trumpets use a strong attack and quick decay at the beginning of the excerpt, and these sudden interjections into the piece creates tension
Jenn Gillan: Great. Do you mean the use of accents here?
The strings play the constant quavers with a short, detached articulation, adding to the frenetic nature of the piece = tension
Jenn Gillan: Yes. Just like Tone colour, here you can talk about reasons why this articulation is created. Are they playing off the string? What is the bow speed/pressure of the bow like?
The string sections strongly accent beats 1 and 3 of the constant semiquaver rhythm, creating a sense of approaching danger and adding to the tension of the excerpt
Jenn Gillan: This is just a personal thing, but is the “sense of approaching danger” comment needed? Does it add to the question? It’s not on the extreme side of reading meaning in but all the question is asking about is tension so not needed?
The development from the beginning unified staccato articulation of the orchestra to the legato semiquavers in the middle of the excerpt creates contrast and conflict = tension
Jenn Gillan: Great responses. You only chose two elements (congratulations on reading the question!) and your responses looked at both what you heard and reasons for this. Tone colour was stronger than articulation I felt. Maybe this needs a little more thought. Other things you can do: compare how articulation is used within an instrument’s line or between instruments. Look at the overall approach to articulation as I suggested with Tone colour. If articulation is constantly changing unexpectedly, what does that do to character?