Microtonality in works for solo piano: Three case studies in the Baltic keyboard repertoirePosted on January 24, 2023
Recently, at Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, an American pianist Robert Fleitz defended his Master thesis “Microtonality in works for solo piano: Three case studies in the Baltic keyboard repertoire”. Fleitz discusses 3 compositions for piano written by Baltic composers: Santa Ratniece (1977) – In Love with Liberty (2016), Liisa Hirsch (1984) – Quantum Well (2020) and Justina Repečkaitė (1989)- Sturnus vulgaris cohibitus (2020).
Justina’s music was also analyzed by Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre students: Ona Jarmalavičiūtė’s bachelor thesis Komponavimo proceso atodangos J. Repečkaitės kompozicijoje „Chartres” (2018) examines her piece Chartres (2012) for string orchestra and Agnė Pilkauskaitės’ Master thesis The significance and expression of extended techniques in sonorous compositions for string instruments (2021) includes an example of Vellum (2020) for orchestra.
Robert Fleitz “Microtonality in works for solo piano: Three case studies in the Baltic keyboard repertoire”
Between each of the well-known twelve semitones of Western European music, there are infinite nuances and colours. The use of these pitches in classical composition is called “microtonality”, the prefix “micro” referring to the relatively small sonic distance between tones. Though used in the traditional music of East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, microtonality is now one of the most important and frequently used techniques in modern Western European concert music. For pianists, microtonal music poses an intriguing problem. How can a piano, with only 88 keys, each of which plays its own particular pitch, also play microtonally? The goal of this thesis is to analyze how composers Santa Ratniece (1977), Liisa Hirsch (1984) and Justina Repečkaitė (1989) solve this problem in their solo piano works In Love with Liberty (2016), Quantum Well (2020) and Sturnus vulgaris cohibitus (2020). In order to understand the significance of the three works’ compositional approaches, it is first necessary to understand their position in music history. Therefore, the first chapter of the work examines the development of microtonality in the 20th and 21st centuries, with a particular focus on piano music. In the second chapter, the interplay of microtonality and form is analyzed in the specific works by Ratniece, Hirsch and Repečkaitė. The methods for this analysis include interviews, sketches and comments by the three composers, as well as their scores, in order to understand how each achieves the desired musical image. Finally, the author of the work uses his experience as a pianist to discuss possibilities for interpretation and curation, utilizing his experience having performed all three pieces and having collaborated with the composers. In so doing, the author of the thesis hopes to increase interest in these three works and inspire other pianists to study them and include them in their own repertoire.