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Temmingh's Compositional Process and Language

Categories Art, Composition, Language, Literature, Music, Theme

Essay, Pages 5 (1061 words)



Essay, Pages 5 (1061 words)

Despite Temmingh’s prolific output, the only comprehensive analysis that covers every aspect of his style is the chapter by Winfried Lindemann in the 1987 edited collection Composers in South Africa Today. Similarly, musicologist Veronica Franke provided a smaller-scale style analysis in her 2011 article. My discussion of Temmingh’s compositional style and language builds on this existing literature but highlights his choral writing through musical examples. My discussion of Temmingh’s style is organized into the following salient features: formal design, melody, rhythm, and harmony.

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Temmingh also has many orchestral compositions to his credit. Most notably a scherzo for piano and orchestra, three symphonies, two piano concertos, concertos for violin, cello, clarinet and flute, three overtures, a concertino for orchestra, and three sonnets for string orchestra.

Scholar Veronica Franke has described Temmingh’s early music as “more experimental” and his later music as “adopting more conservative tonal idioms”. Despite this description, it is difficult and ineffective to categorize Temmingh’s career into periods because he moved easily between musical influences of the changing times and older styles.

As a result, one can describe Temmingh as a polystylist, combining a variety of different musical techniques into his works. This polystylistic approach comes as no surprise since many of the compositions by his Darmstadt-teachers Kagel, Stockhausen, and Ligeti used polystylism. As an alternative form of categorization, Winfried Lindemann described Temmingh’s music as comprising easy pieces, clever pieces,” and other pieces.”

In order to understand Temmingh’s overall compositional style, I highlight representative works from both early (1965-1987) and later (1987-2012) phases of his career.

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Over the course of his career, Temmingh produced a significant and influential body of choral works. These choral works represent almost a quarter of his total output. I attempt to find commonalties throughout his career without ascribing stylistic or classifying parameters to any of the pieces. I focus on Temmingh’s choral works to provide an overview of the most important components of his compositional language and stylistic palette, starting with the text.

The Texts and Poetry

The great American composer Alice Parker once said, “Music and words are born together and destined never to part”. This absolute marriage between words and music as suggested by Parker is clear in Temmingh’s choral music. Temmingh was meticulous when choosing a text to set to music. His texts are mostly from three main sources the Bible, Afrikaans poets such as Izak Wilhelmus van der Merwe (using Boerneef as pseudonym) and Marlene van Niekerk, and his own texts.

Temmingh treats textual clarity with great care. He achieves this by changing the texture between phrases, which in turn creates the basis for his formal design. He marks each phrase through changes in texture and clearly defined cadences. This serves the rhetoric, natural accentuation, and punctuation of the text. The motet, In Lumine Tuo is a clear example of these textural changes.

Temmingh’s treatment of text is predominantly syllabic “he tends to stay with one syllable per note with strong sensitivity to text stress”. He does, however, use melismatic writing at cadences on occasion. Sanctus is an example of this.

Formal Design

Winfried Lindemann suggests that ‘form in Temmingh’s’ music is determined by two considerations: the medium, and the purpose for which the music is written. “I propose that text serves as a third factor that affects form in Temmingh’s music. Text drives the form in his works more often than not, as exemplified by Sanctus, composed in 1999. Sanctus can be divided into three sections with an ABA form.

The first section is mostly homophonic with some animated homophony in the lower three voices.

The B section is rhythmically more active than the two A sections. Franke describes these A sections as the enlivened outer sections flanking an intimate “Pleni”. Temmingh uses the soloists to intone the contrasting, completely homophonic middle section.

It is clear from the examples above that Temmingh allows the text to guide him through the formal layout of a piece. Temmingh creates contrast between sections by changing thematic material. This is evident in the piece Himne. The music is accessible with large-scale cyclic repetitions that maintain a clear sense of formal process. Himne can be divided into three larger sections. The opening material returns at the end, bookending the piece. As is common in Temmingh’s coda writing, he alters this material slightly and decelerates the music using augmentation.

Temmingh’s entry-level pieces have clearer form and tend to be more representative of Classical simplicity and economy of means than bigger works such as Kantorium or Te Deum. The larger, more demanding works are looser in formal structure. In some cases, they are even through-composed. Despite these initial differences, common characteristics in Temmingh’s formal design exist across much of his output.

The first characteristic is thematic material. Although Temmingh’s music is not void of themes or motives, they are not always well defined. Lindemann divides this treatment of themes into two categories. In Lindemann’s opinion, in the first category themes function as entities that can be extended, varied, developed or repeated, whereas in the second category the theme merely provides material for working out the music without itself becoming a formal entity. From a formal point of view, it is significant that Temmingh’s music is thematic because the recognizable subject matter that the music is based on serves as a strong cohesive force for the formal structure. Temmingh alternates between these two ways of using thematic material by sometimes presenting his work within a neo-classic orientation like in Himne and other times presenting it in a free form where the beginnings and endings of phrases may be irregular and unclearly defined as is visible in his last work, Te Deum.

The second characteristic is contrast between sections, which is often brought on by changes in thematic content. Temmingh achieves contrast through a variety of means such as change of tempo, time signature, dynamics, or texture; change in harmonic treatment or instrumentation; change in mood; or even change in the pitch class arrangement.

While there are multiple instances of varying in tempo in Temmingh’s work, like Himne, I use Nisi Dominus as clarifying example. Temmingh uses one voice or instrument to start the transition from one contrasting section to another. This accelerates as the other voices join, creating seamless movement into the next section. As the tempo accelerates, the sopranos are followed by both the tenors and basses.

Cite this essay

Temmingh’s Compositional Process and Language. (2019, Dec 08). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/temminghs-compositional-process-and-language-essay

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