A performance-based study of musical maturation in the violin compositions (1959--1997) of Thom Ritter George

Date of Completion

January 1999






The works of American composer Thom Ritter George (b. 1942) exhibit a firm commitment to conventional forms, counterpoint, and melody. His compositions also emphasize sudden shifts in tonal focus and intricate melodic and thematic development. George eschews atonality and serialism in favor of quartal-quintal harmonies and traditional triadic formations, but he uses these “simple” sonorities in new and unexpected ways. ^ George's violin compositions are worthy of examination because they span his compositional career and reflect his process of maturation through three stages of development: his Early Period (Habanera, CN 58 [1959] and Sonata No. 1, CN 75 [1960–1961]); Period of Growth (Sonata No. 2, CN 140 [1962] and Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin, CN 259 [1969]); and Mature Period ( Sonata No. 3, CN 333 [1988], Introduction and Waltz (After Ysaÿe), CN 342 [1991] and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, CN 351 [1997]). ^ Analysis of these compositions yields three levels of performance issues. On the first, most general level, formal analysis influences pacing, practicing, choice of tempo, large-scale dynamic contour, and memorization. Identification of harmonic components, cadence types, and pitch constructions constitutes the second level of analysis, which affects more detailed performance choices such as bowing direction, fingering, vibrato, bow-speed, and small-scale dynamic shading. The third level of analysis examines the composer's use of idiomatic techniques (harmonics, pizzicati, etc.) and explores the most subtle nuances of performance. This level also explores the purely technical aspects of interpretation based on the performer's execution of individual notes and gestures: sensitivity to color and character through creative use of bow-speed, vibrato, type of left-hand shifting technique, and dynamic nuance on individual pitches. ^ Approaching Thom Ritter George's violin compositions through these three levels of analysis not only results in a set of recommendations for effective interpretations of these works, it also provides useful insight into the composer's development. Decisions about technical matters of execution like vibrato, fingering, bowing, and dynamics are strongly influenced by the position a piece occupies in the composer's oeuvre. ^