Mel Powell String Quartet 1 206:09

Mel Powell String Quartet 1 2

Mel Powell was inspired by composers like Schoenberg, Webern, and American serial composers. Powell won the Pultizer Prize in 1990. His musical style is primarily atonal (Kozinn, 1998). His music ranges from extreme Seralism to semi-improvisational (Kozinn, 1998). Interestingly, before turning into a seralistic composer, he was a jazz pianist, well known from an early age. Powell commonly avoids rhythmic predictability. Unfortunately, I could not find a video and a score of the same piece, so I chose to analyze the "Woodwind Quintet," using the score for it and a recording of Mel Powell's "String Quartet." Both pieces are similar in terms of techniques and should provide the listener with a general idea of his music.


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"Powell's "Woodwind Quintet" This music is mostly athematic and concerned, again, with general color and timbre rather than details. This work is mostly non-tonal, making it ambiguous and steady state as opposed to more directional tonal music found in earlier periods. Showing another modernistic characteristic, Powell uses musical tableaus in this work, a specific way of arranging pitches. This also shows his influence from serialism. His notation is very modern, with extended techniques like flutter tongue used regularly.  Dynamic and rhythmic shifts happen constantly, with moments of silence having a certain importance. The composer is hightly specific with what he desires from the performer. From the very beginning, one can see shifts in rhythm, tempo, and dynamics.


Comparing Pierre Boulez's "Piano Sonata No. 2" and Mel Powell's "Woodwind Quintet" provides interesting similarities and differences. Both employ serialism in terms of specific pitch organization. However, in Boulez's work, he uses serialism in all aspects, also encompassing dynamics, note length etc. Both pieces are very rhythmically active, with rapid shifts occuring in both. 


I think Mel Powell is interesting because his heavy interest in seralism and influences from jazz. To a certain degree, I can understand how these two could be slightly coorelated. Powell's music is interesting to me, particularly his constant shifts.

Works CitedEdit

"Mel Powell: String Quartet {1/2}."  YouTube video, 6:08. Posted by "Michael Nelson," upload March 5, 2010.

Kozinn, Allan. (1990). "Mel Powell, Atonal Composer Who Won Pultizer, Dies at 75". The New York Times. New York, New York.

Powell, Mel. (1985). "Woodwind Quintet". [Musical Score]

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