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Wolfgang von Schweinitz's Plainsound Brass Trio in Theory and Practice: A Guide for Performers


This dissertation essay explores the Plainsound Brass Trio by Wolfgang von Schweinitz, a work for horn, trombone, and tuba written in 2008. This work uses a system of tuning and harmony known as microtonal just intonation and is notated with the Helmholtz-Ellis Just Intonation Pitch Notation, a collection of precisely defined accidentals developed by Schweinitz and fellow composer Marc Sabat. A discussion of intonation theory is presented along with a rudimentary overview of historical tuning practices in an effort to integrate the concepts of just intonation with a preexisting understanding of traditional music theory. Twentieth-century uses of just intonation as a compositional device are examined, with a focus on the works and theories of the composers who most directly influenced Schweinitz: Harry Partch, Ben Johnston, La Monte Young, and James Tenney. A description of Schweinitz’s oeuvre is given, with a case study of the Plainsound-Litany to illustrate the composer’s commitment to using the inherent untempered tuning capabilities of musical instruments. After a description of the Helmholtz-Ellis notation and discussion of developing aural skills for just intonation, the Plainsound Brass Trio is analyzed in terms of its notation, interpretation, and performance challenges. The aim of this dissertation is to provide the reader with the knowledge to understand the Plainsound Brass Trio and to encourage brass players to perform this work, which occupies a unique place in the repertoire.

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