on sonority

Besides the usual aspects of music — melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics, other obvious stuff — could there something deeper, more essential at work in a composition? A suggestive quality to which the listening soul is helpless against certain unusual, perhaps metaphysical impressions? A subliminal texture of spiritual allusions? That’s a question each person will have to answer for himself or herself.

For me, that extra and elemental aspect is sonority — a resonant fullness.

This Bruckner symphony delivers sonority as the acoustic commingling of timbres into an organ-like resonance:



This effect is like a primal synthesis of the human and the unaskable question — time become the sound of itself. Does sonority only happen during performance, or is it also a something accounted for intuitively, imaginatively when the composer sat down to compose? I don’t know.

But I suggest that the blending of timbres into an organic plangency is a clue to art as such.

The extra and elemental aspect that is sonority can float into a listener as if he or she is accidentally eavesdropping on a vague conversation among several strange gods. A resonant intonation can also, I surmise, creep up on us in the presence of other artworks. Say, while viewing and absorbing the uncanny “timbres” of an abstract painting.

Perhaps even or especially with a poem. For some poets, such as Adam Zagajewski, sonority is a thing happening apart from the aural. Not the usual “music” of a poem’s language but a something implicit and symbolical. An unheard effect, a cumulative vibration within written gesture — a poignancy of being in confrontation with Being. Mood as a sonorous choiring of memory, presence, and the necessity of a meaning that is impossible.



Composition VI — Kandinsky, 1913



Posted by Tim Buck



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