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BASIC ELEMENTS OF MY MUSICAL LANGUAGE

A. Tcherepnin
1. Nine-step scale
(The terms tetrachord, hexachord, etc. are used in two senses-- as a succession of notes when written as an
unbroken word; as a chord when written tetra/chord, penta/chord, hexa/chord.)
2. Interpoint
3. Pentatonic scales
4. Chromatic tetrachords and the eight-step scale
5. Georgian harmony
6. Hard and soft intervals and harmony
Some observations
(In Basic Elements of My Musical Language, a manuscript written on twenty-four pages of music paper in January
1962, Alexander Tcherepnin discussed the distinctive technical innovations in his scores and discussed the
philosophical basis of his music. Five sections of this treatise [slightly abridged] appear on this website.)

I. Nine-step scale
Major-minor tetrachords are constructed within the interval of a major third using two half-steps and one wholestep:

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III

Major-minor hexachords are constructed within the interval of a major seventh using alternations of half-step
and one-and-a-half-step intervals:
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II

with one octave added to complete the row:

As shown in the example, mode II is the inversion of mode I.

Note that C, E and Ab are common to both hexachords and that the major third interval between them is the
same distance covered by the tetrachord of Mode I.
The nine-step scale, which results from the addition of two major-minor hexachords is therefore based on three
interlocking major-minor tetrachords and can have three modes:

Because the interlocked tetrachords have identical intervals, the nine step major-minor scale can have three
points of departure (three tonics) in the same row, which are indicated by changes in notation (not by
transposition).

As each nine step row can have three modes and three tonics for each of the modes (differing by notation), this
results in a total of 9 nine-step scales for each row: 3 fundamental and 6 derivative (through change of notation).
Each nine step row can be transposed [only] three times in "fixed Doh" terms, [i. e., by a half-step, a whole step,
or a step-and-a-half], since any further transposition merely yields a one of the four fundamental rows (or scales),
with the tonic (fundamental tone of the start) placed a major third above or below.
There can therefore be 4 fundamental nine-step scales, each with three modes (12 scales altogether) and 8
derivative nine-step scales (obtained by change of notation), each with 3 modes each (24 altogether).
This brings the number of nine-step-scale "tonalities" or modes to 36.

The four fundamental nine-step scales are as follows:


(notation in ascending fifths)

The notation will indicate the position of the point of departure (the tonic) and can be said to indicate the position
of the tonal center.
If used in major thirds or minor sixths the scale will keep those intervals audibly intact (although some of the
thirds will be written as diminished fourths, and some of the sixths will be written as augmented fifths):

If used in minor thirds or in major sixths, the intervals will audibly vary between minor thirds and major seconds
(when in thirds) or between major sixths and minor sevenths (when in sixths):

If used in fourths or fifths the intervals will audibly vary between perfect and augmented fourths (when in
fourths) or between perfect and diminished fifths (when in fifths).

If used in minor seconds or major sevenths the intervals will vary audibly between major and minor seconds (when
in seconds) or major and minor sevenths (when in sevenths).

In arpeggiated form, the nine-step scale can be presented in the following ways:

The three-voice nine-step triads and their inversions

The fundamental perfect chord of nine-step scale harmony is the major-minor tetrachord.
The major-minor tetra/chord and its inversions:

in five-part settings in which the fundamental tetra/chord is considered as stable (and final) any note of the
fundamental tetra/chord can be doubled; the penta/chord introduces the element of instability.

The minor penta/chord is tonal in its "resolution":

The major penta/chord can effect modulation by nine-step resolutions that arrive at a new tonal center:

In six-part settings the penta/chord (major or minor) is considered as stable, while the hexa/chord is unstable,
finding resolution in a penta/ chord, and so on, up to the point at which--in ten-part harmony--the entire nine-step
scale becomes a stable chord, with instability provided by an extra tonal appoggiatura (in ten-part settings), two
extra appoggiaturas (eleven-part) or three appoggiaturas (twelve-part).

II. Interpoint (punctus inter punctum)


Interpoint can be vertical (which is self explanatory):

Example: Symphony No. 1, third movement


can be horizontal:

Example: Symphony No. 1, first movement


N. B. The accented string rhythms coincide with the strong beats of the measure. Woodwinds establish their
rhythm on the second 8th-note (horizontal displacement by the value of 1/8). Horns start on the third 8th-note
(horizontal displacement by the value of 1/4). can be metrical:

Example: Expressions, Op. 81, No. 10 (Exit)


N. B. Although the patterns coincide vertically, they are of different meters and different lengths. can consist of
various combinations of the three essential trends:

Example: Showcase, Op. 75


Combination of metrical and vertical interpoint

More complex combinations: 6-part "Formula" (3rd movement of Symphony No. 1, Op. 42)

8-part vertical/horizontal interpoint (Quintet Op. 44, 2nd movement)

III. Pentatonic Scales


a) Major pentatonic scale and its modes:

or, if taken from the same tonal center,

b) Minor pentatonic scale:

or, if taken from the same tonal center,

Major pentatonic as chord (constructed by using every second step).

of course, also in 3rd, 4th, 5th and 9 step construction.


Minor pentatonic as chord (constructed by using every second step).

of course, also in 3rd, 4th, 5th and 9 step construction.

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IV. Chromatic Tetrachords

II

III

Eight-step scale
constructed from two non-interlocking tetrachords

Modes I, II, III and IV differ through the construction (modes) of the tetrachords.
Modes I', II', III' and IV' differ from fundamental modes I, II, III, IV only through pitch.
It is possible to produce a variety of scale construction by combining different modes of the tetrachords.
The fundamental chord would be one of the four tetrachords taken as a chord, and its inversions.

V. Georgian Harmony
Fundamental Georgian triad and its inversions:

VI. Hard and Soft Intervals, Hard and Soft Harmony


Hard intervals are major and minor sevenths and seconds, also perfect and augmented fourths and perfect and
diminished fifths.
Soft intervals are major and minor thirds and sixths.

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Hard-interval triad and its inversions:


a) Georgian triad

b) hard-triad

Harmony in hard intervals is limited to four parts:

Alternation of hard- and soft-interval writing


Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 48
Principal theme of the first movement (hard intervals):

Subordinate theme of the first movement:

Chords built by thirds in nine-step setting

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Some observations
1. The origins of the nine step scale.
Since my early youth I had the tendency and the urge to combine major and minor chords. Only a major-minor
tetra/chord gave me the sensation of finality and of stability. Then gradually I extended the 1-tone -tone 1tone row further to reach the octave. By adding the ascending hexachord with the descending one I found the
nine step scale which evidently guided me instinctively before I started to theorize it (the first appearance of
the nine step scale is in the Romantic Sonatine, Op. 4, composed in 1918, while the conscious theorization of it
came only in 1922 after the theorizing of hexachords that started around 1920.
2. Twelve Preludes for Cello and Piano, Op. 34 (1925-1926) are written in the complete circle of the 12 nine-step
[tonalities]. I called it "Violoncelle bien tempr" to underline the equality of flats and sharps which is
characteristic of the nine step scale.
3. Quite early in my life I had the urge to use pure rhythm liberated from any pitch. The first application of it
was the reduction of the principal theme (motif) to its purely rhythmic value at the end of Message, Op. 39: the
pianist has to beat it on the wood of the piano. A far more elaborate application of this urge for pure rhythm is in
the second movement of the First Symphony (1927) which is for percussion alone. Here the thematic material of
the first movement is reduced to its purely rhythmic value.
4. The "folklore" of bird calls, of insects ("Katy did Katy didn't" etc.)-- the sounds of nature, the rhythm of the
spoken word-- always had fascination for me. I started to use bird calls as musical material as early as 1924--the
two themes of the last movement of my First Cello Sonata, Op. 29 (1924) are the calls of a "merle des roches"
that I heard in Monte Carlo and "transposed" into the nine step scale. The insects (fourth movement of the Duo) I
heard during early autumn nights in Islip, Long Island, in the twenties.
I have used the rhythm of the spoken word on many occasions. The third movement of the Sonatina for Timpani
and Piano uses the prosody of the "Pater noster" recited in Russian.
5. At the end of the twenties I embraced the so-called "Eurasian" ideology, which is based on the idea that the
Russian "Empire" inherited the empire founded by the Mongols, [with the result] that Mongols became assimilated
with Russians (or vice versa). The opera Hochzeit der Sobeide and the Concertino, Op. 47, [reflected] this
ideology. Then, after a visit to Egypt and Palestine where I looked for the familiar Orient came the Third Piano
Concerto, [along with] the Duo that I baptized as No. 1 of Cahiers Eurasiens.
6. Eurasian ideology helped me [to escape from] the technicalities of my musical thinking which [had] culminate[d]
in the Quintet, Op. 44 (1927). Yet [my approach] was still quite complex [in the period when] I was looking for
simplification and renewal of my technical vocabulary.
7. Such simplification and renewal came via Folklore. I felt that, what the anatomy of the human body is for a
painter--folklore is for a composer. The anatomy of the human body gives the lines of "life survival." Every great
painter has studied it--Michelangelo, Leonardo, Delacroix, Picasso--each one used it for his purposes (Picasso for
abstract construction). [Similarly], Folklore gives us the lines of "musical survival." Operating with themes from
Folklore, composers work with eternal material which they can use for any purpose.
8. My "cure" by Folklore started with the Russian Dances, Op. 50; then continued in China and Japan, where I
became fascinated by the instrumental, theatrical and vocal heritage of the Orient; then returned to Georgian
Folklore: as there is a saying "proletarians of the world, unite!"--I would say that the Folklore of all countries and
all races has the same eternal value. In my ballet Trepak, which I composed in 1937 on my return from China, I
used musical themes from Russian Folklore that are pentatonic and treated them in a Chinese way.
9. There was a great decline in the quality of my production during the war years. To live through the occupation
was not easy and I had to compose lots of trash--for dancers, for music halls, etc.-- which had to be signed [with
a nom de plume] because I was Russian. This helped me survive, but little of this war production of mine survived.

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10. Immediately after the end of the occupation, even before the end of the war, my fertility returned. In one
single summer (1945) I composed the cantata Pan Kou in the Chinese idiom (which was produced at the Paris
Opera for the celebration of the Chinese Double X), The Twelve, and the ballet Djeuner sur l'herbe; then during
the autumn and winter--Jeu de la Nativit, Showcase, and the ballet Chota Rostaveli.
11. The great change in my life occurred in 1949 when I came to live in the USA in Chicago; especially during the
time between 1950-1958 during which I did not leave the USA. Numerous commissions gave birth to orchestral
compositions. I orchestrated the Second Symphony, produced the Third using some older materials, then-Divertimento; Fourth Symphony.
12. The new musical language which I now used to express myself in larger orchestral forms synthesized all the
technical devices of the past--which I outlined in [the previous pages]-- and became combined with new research
in form.
13. I see the profession of composer as a mission: a mission to serve the community to which he belongs, which
stimulates him, in the first place, to give back to human beings what he receives from them, shaping it in the form
of a work of art. When I say "serve" I do not mean to play down; on the contrary, to serve the community by art is
to guide the community, just as a priest guides his congregation.
14. A work of art (a composition) as I see it must directly project the message it contains. Only if it communicates
is it worth examining later on to [determine its principles of] "order," which are the technical means that the
composer has used.
15. The technical devices employed by the composer can never be a goal in themselves, but only the means to
express the message.
16. Above all is the imagination. Then comes personal taste that chooses among the products of imagination and
after this the technical means that put in order the things imagined.
17. There are no "neutral" technical means. Each new idea needs new means, or extension of means.
18. So it is like building a house, extending it in all directions. Never reject what one had, but always add.
19. The greater the ideas--the larger the form. A large form cannot be filled up by extension of small ideas.
20. It is the Form and not the musical language that makes a composition long living. Every musical language
becomes outdated sooner or later, but the message expressed by it in adequate form survives.
21. I do not believe in the so-called music of "tomorrow." The music that fully expresses "today"--which can be
identified with the aims and with the cultural state of human beings in the community to which the composer
belongs--is the music that may survive, by "fixing" a "memento" of the life of humanity.
22. Music is a construction in time: so many minutes of time put in order and "fixed" by the composer.
23. The reason why people like to listen to pieces of music heard before that projected [meaning to] them is a
kind of "nostalgia" for the past.
24. Music is [a] uniting [of] people; [that] is its ultimate goal: its ultimate raison d'tre is to make people feel
united by contributing-- [either] actively, in performing, or emotionally, in attending a performance of a work of
art.
New York, January 10, 1962

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