Ialemos, from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘a sound uttered by mourners,’ is a work for solo horn composed in 2008 by Spiros Mazis. The piece is based on Dr. Mazis’ research on the microtonal capabilities of brass instruments and was composed using a combination of ancient Greek musical theory and contemporary compositional techniques.
About the Composer:
Spiros Mazis was born in 1957 in Corfu, Greece. He obtained his Degree in Composition with Yiannis Ioannidis with Distinction and First Prize and his PhD in Music Composition with Thomas Simaku at York University, England. He attended composition seminars with Theodore Antoniou and Iannis Xenakis in Greece and Marco Stroppa and Tristan Murail in Hungary, where he also attended Computer and Electronic Music seminars, with David Waxman and Andrea Szigetvari. Creative and critical thinking has always been the starting point of his compositional activity. His research is based on exploring the harmonic series and the relations of the intervals among their partials with a way that he names Multiharmonic Mode or Multispectral Mode. Seven of his works have been distinguished in composition contests. He is the Founder and Director of the “Classical and Contemporary Music” Conservatory, which he inaugurated in 1995. He is a member of the Union of Greek Composers and the founder and president of the Greek Composers Artistic Forum (G.C.A.F.).
Ancient Greek Musical Theory:
In ancient Greek musical theory, notes and scales were organized using tetrachords (literally, four strings) which were comprised of four notes spanning the interval of a perfect fourth. There were three genera (s. genus) or classes of tetrachords: diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic. These tetrachords could be combined to allow for melodies that spanned a distance greater than a fourth. Two consecutive tetrachords could either be conjuctive if they shared a note or disjunctive if they were separated by a whole tone.
According to the philosopher and mathematician Archytas (428 – 347 BC), the smallest interval of the enharmonic mode is approximately one-third of a semi-tone (half-step). The intervals found in Ialemos are similar, but not exactly the same as Archytas’, whose intervals were based lyre strings where Ialemos is based on the horn’s overtone series.
About the Piece:
Ialemos, written for solo horn, is a tour-de-force for the soloist, containing a great number of extended techniques and difficult passages over the course of the 9-10 minute long piece. Enharmonic tetrachords are found throughout the piece, serving as a framework upon which the remainder of the piece rests. A common theme in Ialemos is the use of contrasting and gradual effects such as transitions from a normal tone to flutter-tonguing or air sounds. In addition to these, the piece contains numerous microtonal passages, extensive use of silence and non-tonal effects, multiphonics, aleatoric music, and even a few theatrical effects.
The microtonal intervals found throughout this piece are based on Dr. Mazis’ research into the horn’s natural harmonic series, namely the 7th, 11th, and 13th partials. By taking advantage of the different partials found on the harmonic series of each valve combination, the horn is capable of playing eight or more different microtones within the space of a whole step in certain portions of its range (as shown in the example below).
Example No. 1:
Page 1, System 1: This passage is one of the many ‘senza tempo’ (without tempo) non-measured sections found in Ialemos. The notations in these sections are inexact and sustained notes are indicated by lines following a note head; the longer the line, the longer the note. Breaks in these lines indicate rests. Also shown in this passage are several examples of the use of gradual changes in sound from a normal tone to air sounds and flutter-tonguing, as well as the use of contrasting dynamics.
Example No. 2:
Page 1, System 3: Ialemos was written mainly as an exploration of the horn’s latent microtonal capabilities which naturally occur within the instrument’s harmonic series. One way of looking at the valved horn is as a series of natural (valveless) horns, each in a different key, accessed by a specific valve combination. (Open is Horn in F, F2 in Horn in E, Bb23 is Horn in G-flat, etc). This passage is one of many found in this piece which takes advantage of a specific valve combination’s overtone series. The D quarterflat is the 7th harmonic of the Bb2 series and is about 31 cents flat. Traditionally, the 7th harmonic was avoided because of it being so ‘out of tune,’ but this characteristic is taken advantage of here. Also of note here are the lip trills notated as tremolos (the F#-G# and F#-E) and the short triple-tongue passage which call for a specific pronunciation (ta-ka-ta).
Page 1, System 3-4: This piece makes frequent use of air sounds and other pitchless effects. In this passage, specific fingerings are called for while playing a breath (air) tone. This effect does not change the pitch as a breath tone is white noise and has no pitch, but instead creates a series of resistances which are audible as pulses of air through the horn. In the second measure of this passage is a unique effect sometimes called a mouthpiece (or hand) pop. By using the flat of the palm to strike the mouthpiece while pointing the bell away from the body, it creates a popping sound which is then amplified through the horn. (Be careful not to slap the mouthpiece too hard or it will get stuck in the horn).
Example No. 4:
Page 2, System 4 – Page 3, System 1: Ialemos is notated using a two staff system throughout the entire piece. This second staff primarily serves as a way to give additional information about the microtonal intervals called for in the piece without cluttering the actual music. The accidentals in Ialemos do not refer to an exact quarter-step distance, but serve more as a direction of intonation. Because of this, the numbers on the second staff, which are only listed for micro-intervals, give the specific distance, in cents, of the microtonal distance between two notes.
Example No. 5:
Page 4, System 2: Here is an example of technique known as multiphonics or horn chords. By playing and singing into the horn simultaneously, a chord of three or four tones will form when both the played and sung tones belong to the same harmonic (overtone) series. When playing this technique, it is important to have the voice match the tone color of the horn as closely as possible. Great care must also be taken to keep intonation as steady as possible, especially when the voice and horn are an octave apart.
Example No. 6:
Page 5, System 3: This excerpt is one of several aleatoric (or chance) music sections found in Ialemos. The lack of exact rhythms and notation gives this piece a highly improvisatory feel during these particular passages.
Ialemos was first recorded by Rania Stamatelou (pictured), a member of the Just Brass Quintet which is comprised of active members of symphonic orchestras in Greece. More information about the Just Brass Quintet can be found here.
The score for Ialemos is available from the composer: contact.
Burkholder, J. Peter, Etc. “A History of Western Music, 7th Edition.” W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2006. (Ancient Greek Theory).
Hill, Douglas.: “Extended Techniques for the Horn: A Practical Handbook for Students, Performers, and Composers.” Warner Bros. Publications U.S. Inc. 1983, 1996.
Mazis, Spiros.: “Ialemos, A Short Description.” 2008.