Here is an excerpt from a new book about the life & music of the English composer Cyril Scott (d. 1970):
Cyril Scott Companion, page 189The Chamber Music by Kurt Leland
Most people familiar with the music of Cyril Scott – from his short piano
works to his songs, symphonies and concertos – would agree that he had an
extraordinary ear for what musicians call harmonic colour. By half-step alterations
of certain notes in a chord, non-diatonic chord progressions, or rapid modulations
to distant keys, he could create impressions on the ear that seemed comparatively
brighter or darker or that had quasi-kaleidoscopic qualities that cannot be described
in words, though they can be easily recognised upon recurrence.
Scott’s music was valued in some circles for its harmonic colour. But in others
it was denigrated for being nothing more than that. Year after year, critics chided
Scott for having no sense of form or logical musical development. Few perceived
that he was a revolutionary right to the end of his life, when he was occasionally
berated – when noticed at all – for having nothing new to say. The nature of Scott’s
one-person revolution lies precisely in his lifelong struggle to reconcile expressive
colour with logically unfolding form.
Scott’s solution bears a resemblance to his Hungarian contemporary Béla
Bartók’s folk-music-derived method of polymodal chromaticism. Yet Scott arrived
at his reconciliation of colour and form by an independent route – thus it merits a
distinctive name. I call it pan-modality: the juxtaposition or superposition of modes
to create functional equivalents for every (pan-) aspect of traditional tonal music,
including melody, harmony, polyphony, tonality and form.
Scott employed modes that included five tones (pentatonic), six (hexatonic,
including the whole-tone scale), seven (diatonic, including major and minor scales
and the so-called Greek modes encountered in Gregorian chant and folk music),
eight (octatonic, including the symmetrical scale of alternating whole- and halftones),
and possibly more, up to twelve (the chromatic scale – but generally not a
twelve-tone row as used in the dodecaphonic school of composition). Such modes
could be simple (such as those listed above), exotic (as in Indian rāgas), or synthetic
(self-created by the composer, often through chromatic alteration of a simple mode
or by non-tonal doubling of melodic lines in major thirds, perfect fourths, and so
on). For Scott, each mode had a colour that the ear could learn to recognise as it
was exchanged for other modes to create the illusion of harmonic progression or
recurred as a form-generating device, from intervallic cells (modal fragments) to
phrases, sections of movements, and unified multi-movement works.
The evolution of Scott’s pan-modality may be traced from his first chamber
music productions to his last. Let us examine this evolution decade by decade...