A large portion of my writing is tonal, but sometimes I describe a piece as being
symetritonal - meaning that there is a vertical balance (or symmetry) between
the parts. And, yes, I know that the word "symmetry" has two "m's". I spell with
one "m", because with that spelling the word has twelve letters - and that is
important to me for no sensible reason - except perhaps the fact that everything
we do in music uses only twelve tones in their various ranges. I do not think this
concept is revolutionary, but it is a new approach that I have not seen
Basic Principles of SYMETRITONIX
SYMETRITONIX involves the calculated balancing of the tones from each of the
whole tone scales. This creates a harmony that is different from that we hear in
most strictly tonal configurations. It is not a revolutionary approach, because
one will find harmonies in the works of great twentieth century composers that
are in compliance with this principle; however, I can find no composer who has
used this technique exclusively in a section of a work or who has described it in
the same way that I have done.
As anyone with musical training will know, there are two whole tone scales; (1)
C D E F# G# A# (2) Db Eb F G A B
In basic two-part writing I balance the tones in the upper voice with those in the
lower voice. At any given moment the upper voice will contain a tone from the
first whole tone scale, and the lower voice will contain a tone from the second
whole tone scale, or vice-versa.
If you have read this far, it is possible that you have some interest in this topic.
To begin our exploration I encourage you to consider some two part examples of
Symetritonix that I have written. What I can say about these is that without
this principle in mind, I would have never written these combinations of two
voices. For me the result is liberating.
Example Number One:
Example Number Two:
In three-part writing it is obvious that a true balance of parts may not occur, but
it may be possible to balance two accompanying lines from one whole tone scale
to a melody from the opposite scale. I have not yet explored this possibility. To
date I have just treated three-part sections as a "free" area where no rules apply.
In four part writing this method does not stand out as radical, because if your
intent is to create tonal harmony, that is still very possible within the bounds of
symetritonix. Some doubling of voices occurs that is not according to the "rules"
of Bach chorales, but since the intent is to break new ground and avoid cliches,
that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Six part writing, which I have only begun to explore, seems to have a lot of
possibilities for creativity. It is three separate parts from one whole tone scale
balanced against three separate parts from the other whole tone scale. In my
writing thus far I have discovered that when the six parts are balanced and
working well, you can insert an additional familiar tonal melody, and it can be
heard in its independence and its blend with the whole. This concept is shown in
my Passacaglia. You may listen here by clicking on the title.
There are several other examples of two part writing that I will post when time
permits. In these one may see the "original" concept.
I was very surprised to find that a piece for piano that I wrote in the fifties is
almost 100% symetritonic. It was written at a time that I had never even
thought about exploring this compositional technique. In the link that follows,
Centennial Variations, the opening theme is a direct statement of the piano
A few years ago I wrote a piece for wind ensemble called Symetritonix #1. It is
mostly conceived with the these principles, but I remember taking some liberties
before the piece was finished. It was premiered by the TWU Wind Ensemble in
In a piece for organ entitled Chorale and Fugue the chorale is symetritonic, but
the fugue that follows does not strictly adhere to these principles. Here is an
electronic version of the piece.
In April of 2013 I presented a recital featuring a professional trombone quartet.
There is a PowerPoint that gives information about semetritonal composition.
You can view this recital by clicking this link:
One of my most recent compositions using this technique was a piece called
SQUARAUQS, performed by the North Texas Euphonium Quartet.