Asymmetry! This is a quality I love to discover in my favorite pieces of art and music. In the Classical Era, beauty was considered to be the result of balance, order, and perfect symmetry. However, the 20th century “creators” challenged these philosophies, composing radically new forms of art. Today, we stand with the wonder of opposites. Balance and imbalance are no longer incompatible. Symmetry and asymmetry can work together “in harmony.”
I am pleased to introduce “Asymmetry” from book 4 of my new series, One of a Kind. This is an intriguing piece to present in terms of opposites working together. Click the image below to see the score with helpful markings.
The time signature is an excellent place to start, being the rhythmic foundation of the piece. In measure 1, 5/8 immediately sets up an imbalanced nature: 3 + 2. Measures 9, 10, and 11 have the 7/8 pattern while measure 12 has the unexpected switch back to 5/8. Another point of inequality is the 3 (alike) + 1 (different) nature to the measure format throughout the music. This is easy to see via the patterns of the left hand. At measure 13, to counteract the imbalances of the individual measures, the larger picture of a dependable 4-measure structure (3 + 1 = 4) begins to emerge. Also, recurring rhythmic patterns in the left hand brings a distinct sense of order. The musical ear begins to rely on these patterns throughout the piece.
Like the rhythm, the melody also follows a distinct measure format: three simple notes (m.1), retrograde (m.2), repetition (m.3), then something new (m.4). This 3 + 1 configuration continues at measure 9 when the piece switches to 7/8. Notice the strong use of sequencing in this section: mm.9-10, mm.13-14 and mm.15-16, which acts as a transition into a new key. The new section, beginning in measure 19, introduces a hybrid melody, nostalgic of the opening, as the 3 + 1 structure continues. Melodic sequences can be spotted in several measures, bringing “soothing” order into a seemingly imbalanced musical atmosphere.
At a glance, the harmonic language defies expectation! The music starts in A minor and ends in D major. Minor and major interact to the point where the ear wonders which one is actually in control. A melodic minor emerges as a strong force with the D (IV) and E (V) major chords in measure 4. Measure 9 is a surprise with the introduction of the A major chord. However, it is immediately followed by a C major chord, hinting back to the minor key via the C natural. Yes, it is complicated! Measure 16 offers a gentle transition into D minor. Note that A is the dominant key of D minor. At measure 27, the original A minor returns. After a recap of measures 9-16 at measure 35, the coda leads to D major. This offers a refreshing surprise ending. Contemporary music often weaves in and out of keys. I consider this to be a unique form of asymmetry.
I have always appreciated the age-old idiom of “opposites attract”. Through the musical fundamentals of structure, rhythm, melody, and harmony, opposites work together in complex ways, similar to life itself. Symmetry mixed with asymmetry can express new forms of artistry.
I send my best to you and your students as you discover new perspectives into what makes music truly beautiful!
Author, Arranger, Composer