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Old 11-27-2009, 04:48 AM
Mark W Mark W is offline
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 597
Default Mark Walsen - Parallel Intervals for Piano

Hello Music Friends,

After 25 years, I finally finished the Parallel Intervals for Piano, which you can hear at

Here are the program notes I wrote up at Soundclick:

Parallel Intervals for Piano (1984, finished in 2009)
The general philosophy behind this Parallel Intervals piece is that by severely restricting options in one dimension of music, the composer is forced to be more adventurous in other dimensions of music to keep it interesting for the listener. In this case, many options in harmony are eliminated because each hand must play the notes in parallel. Therefore, there is a need to vary the music in other dimensions, particularly rhythm, meter, phrasing, dynamics, accents, and texture.

Parallel Seconds
This first piece is built out of major and minor seconds played simultaneously in the right or left hand. The notes are two or one keys apart on the piano. For the pianist, it feels somewhat like playing Chop Sticks. This Parallel Seconds piece further restricts itself to just the white keys. Thus, the overall tonality is calm (in C major); but tempo adds a little bit of energy, that raises question as to what the energy level of the remaining pieces will be like.

Parallel Thirds
This second piece is built out of minor and major thirds played simultaneously in the right or left hand. The notes are three and four keys apart.
As with the Parallel Seconds piece, this Parallel Thirds piece further restricts itself to just the white keys, thus the key of C major. The piece is light-hearted.

Parallel Fourths
This third piece is build out of only perfect fourth intervals, played simultaneously in the right or left hand. On the piano, the perfect fourth interval is 5 notes apart.

The perfect fourth, played on its own, has a very unresolved feeling. The perfect fourth wants to take the listener home. This Parallel Fourths piece is forced to defy the natural yearning of the perfect fourth to resolve, because each fourth is played by yet another fourth. Basically, all normal conventions of harmony are forced to be abandoned.

This abandoning of harmony may come as a shock to the listener, especially after the first two light-hearted pieces-- theParallel Seconds and Parallel Thirds. Itís not the intention of the composer to shock the listener. In fact, the composer attempts to tame the Parallel Fourths by further restricting them to a constant regular alternating of the fourths between the right and left hands, without any variety in tempo or meter, except at the very end.

What dimensions of music does that leave for creating interest and momentum in the piece? Listen for accent marks and changes in dynamics (loudness). Especially, listen for variety in the horizontal lines of the parallel notes, which are sometimes played very repetitively, and at other times with suddenly jumps out of line.

Parallel Fifths
This fourth piece is built out of only perfect fifth intervals, played simultaneously in the right or left hand. On the piano, the perfect fourth interval is 7 notes apart.

Succession of fifths immediately recalls the sound of horns, even when played on the percussive piano instrument. This piece cannot help but have a sort of retrospective midieval sound, although with a contemporary attitude.

This composer loves the sounds of fifths. Perhaps that enthusiasm shows in this piece.

Parallel Sixths
This fifth piece is build out of minor and major sixth intervals, played simultaneously in the right or left hand. On the piano, these notes are 8 and 9 keys apart.

This piece is sort of a stage for a friendly, even somewhat humorous, conversation between major and minor sixths, and between major and minor scales, which have such distinct personalities. Neither the major nor minor has a chance to say more than a few words before the other interrupts it. The most fun happens when they start talking at the same time.

Parallel Sevenths
This sixth piece is built out of minor and major seventh intervals, played simultaneously in the right or left hand. On the piano, these notes are 10 and 11 keys apart, or just 2 and 1 notes short of an octave apart.

Much of jazz music revolves around seventh chords. This Parallel Seventh piece is thus deeply aligned with jazz.

Because parallel sevenths are very difficult to play at a fast tempo on the piano, this piece, wanting to be played rather than sit on a shelf as a technical curiosity, keeps itself to a very comfortable, even lazy tempo.

This Parallel Seventh piece was left unfinished in 1984, and thus the whole collection was left unfinished, until 25 years later. I donít know why it took me 25 years to finish this simple little piece.

This last piece is built almost entirely out of octaves played in both hands. The piece recalls the themes from each of the previous sixth Parallel Intervals.

It took me 25 years of many abandoned attempts to finish the previous Parallel Sevenths piece, which was to be the last of the Parallel Intervals. Perhaps because I had revisited these pieces so many times over those 25 years, looking for an idea to finish the Parallel Sevenths piece, all of those Parallel Interval pieces were very familiar friends to me for much of my adult life. I never found the Parallel Sevenths piece to be a satisfying ending for the collection, which is perhaps the reason I had so much difficulty finishing it. Once I finished the Parallel Sevenths, it was obvious that there should be a final Octaves interval piece. With all of the other Parallel Interval pieces having been long-time friends, it was clear that the Octaves piece should give a final stage for the themes of each of the intervals. That is highly meaningful to me. It hopefully makes musical structural sense also.

-- Mark
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