Partita for 8 voices- Allemande

Caroline Shaw

Partita for 8 voices- Allemande

For Chamber vocal ensemble

Partita for 8 voices-Allemande. The first time I heard this work, I was impressed with the use of all the potential that the human voice can give. It is written for 8 voices, specifically for 4 female voices and 4 male voices with a possible formation of 2 Sopranos, 2 Altos, 2 Tenors and 2 Bases (SSAATTBB). Composer Caroline Shaw shows us that music can be created using more than just the singing voice.

The combination of the speaking voice and the singing voice creates  unique polyphonic and homophonic textures. The speaking voice establishes the tempo and the rhythmic patterns used in the rest of the piece. Also, some sections of the ensemble act as a rhythmic accompaniment of certain melodies sung by the soprano and the tenor. The singing voice mostly serves as a melodic and harmonic support for the other choral sections. All these characteristics help to create a counterpoint full of rhythmic ostinatos and variation of timbres. It is easy to distinguish in which parts of the piece goes from one texture to another. The polyphonic sections of the piece is when you have the combination of speaking and singing voice. In the homophonic parts, all the voices are heard entirely singing without the presence of the speaking voice.

After listening to this movement several times, I identify the presence of different vocal techniques that help the ensemble to achieve all the timbres desired by the composer. In general, two unique techniques are used: the classic vocal technique and the overtone singing technique. The overtone singing is used so that the ensemble can achieve the transition from the speaking to the singing voice without gattering tired, thus creating overtones in those sections. Also, overtones are detected in some vocal changes in which different vowel changes are appreciated. The classical vocal technique is present in most of the time; with it, it is possible to create several colors in the singing voice, in addition to projecting the presence of the rhythmic ostinatos of the speaking voice.

All the combinations of timbres present is thanks to the combination of words, vowels, and consonants used in the piece. The text used does not make any poetic or literary sense in general. In my opinion, the composer chose or wrote these texts with the purpose of achieving the required rhythmic accents. Adding, also, that the vowels used in the text create a sound mass that contains a good variation of timbres which is comfortable for the audience to hear. Concerning consonants, the use of voiced consonants, such as M, help create a more opaque and dark sound compared to others. The vowels most present in the piece are those that are more open, like the A and the O, creating more wide and bright sounds that contrast with the sounds of the voiced consonants and the text.

Despite the modern techniques used in this work, I feel that this work is connected to the traditions of western music. In  most rhythmic sections of the pieces, they resemble specific characteristics of the Allemande as the use of the rhythm in 2/4, also the use of pickups and repetitions of particular patterns of the piece. Its connection is also shown by the presence of the typical vocal polyphony of Western music. Even for the formation used in the ensemble, you can say that it is chamber music. All this combination of timbres and textures reminds me a lot of the choral works of Palestrina because of the counterpoint, the formation of voices, and these are also points that remind me of the works for 8 or more voices by Palestrina.

Alejandro Carrillo Pastrana.

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