A Door into the Dark

Ashley Venegas; 3/25/19

Missy Mazzoli

A Door into the Dark (2008, released March 2009)

For clarinet, violin, 2 keyboards, double bass

Toska

Whenever I am presented something new, be musical or otherwise, I do my best to give it an honest insight. I have never heard of Missy Mazzoli, as with every new composer brought up, but her music felt a bit more ruminative and ethereal to me compared to the others. Each work I heard from her had a characteristic that portrayed an element of nostalgic melancholy, something familiar yet distant. She often composes works based on several repetitive, minimalistic motives that shape into a massed character of moods and sounds in “covert” ways. While her music brought restlessness to my heart, I finally chose to review Mazzoli’s work A Door into the Dark as its introduction instantly peaked my interest.

The beginning of A Door into the Dark opens our ears to a light and somber keyboard playing a reverbed, repetitive motive in a minor key; the motive itself eludes to a minor key as it includes a lowered 3rd and there is constant tension within the motive. As the unexpected double bass and violin enter, the contrasting range of the strings draws attention away from the keyboard, which has begun to subtly alter its harmonic structure while keeping its rhythmic pattern the same. Mazzoli has all the voices producing their own persistent motives that are separate from the each other (perhaps polyphonic), yet they do not feel out of place when performed together. The wash of the combined sounds creates a disorienting aural effect due to the music lacking a stable sense of meter, often giving the idea of either 3/4 or 6/8 time signatures. Depending on the perception of the meter, the 3/4 will have vertical hemiolas occurring between the steady keyboard’s 8th notes as the syncopated violins move in a swinging 2-beat motion within the 3/4 meter. There are points where accented notes and harmonic changes occur in different times for each voice, once again allowing the listener to hear alternate angles of the same, “repetitive” work as they attentively take notice of the music.

In another case, A Door into the Dark is able to create noticeable contrast by shifting the style of articulation to create a heavy and dark tone within the middle of the work. At the beginning, each instrument has long, connected phrases that create a floating effect as the notes blend together. In the middle of the work, the clarinet shifts its tone from connected long notes to disconnected, shorter notes, which foreshadows the change of the work’s intensity. The violin’s previous motive increasingly becomes stronger within the syncopated rhythm as the keyboards also have shorter articulations, as compared to the beginning of the work. As the music progresses, the clarinet’s syncopated notes and motive break the sense of meter while the violin heavily grates into their steady rhythmic downbeats. Gradually, the music fades away back into its lighter textures until a voice states that she is “going to her fate”.

Mazzoli’s music hauntingly beautiful is full of dark textures and repetitive motives, yet it is far from being a called simplistic or mundane. Her style of music seems to fall into the minimalistic structure due to the continuously performed motives, but at the same time she has the ability to skillfully place subtle changes as the works progress. Certainly, the unresolved progressions, hemiolas, and constant motives have a relation to classical music, but Mazzoli applies a new sense of direction with them. The motives could be learned and sung by a listener, but its reason was not to be sung in daily life (like you would for other classical melodies). Her music evokes strong emotions and profound thoughts, like the effects of Philip Glass’s work, as they both have a transcendent and meditative aura.

– Ashley Venegas

References

“A Door into The Dark.” YouTube video, 5:21. Posted by “Missy Mazzoli,” December 22, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWI9vGzRIEI&t=74s

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