The Five Senses

The Five Senses
(A Suite for Piano in Five Movements)
by Dan Locklair

The Five Senses (A Suite for Piano in Five Movements) was commissioned by the Music Teachers National Association – North Carolina state chapter – for its 2003 state convention. Composed during the spring of 2003, The Five Senses received its first performance by pianist, Louis Goldstein, on 18 October 2003 during the MTNA Convention at Meredith College, Raleigh, North Carolina. Approximately nine minutes in duration, The Five Senses was especially created with intermediate level pianists in mind. It seeks to offer these musicians compositions that will reward them both technically and musically without writing “down” to them. The symbolism of the number “5” is important to the entire piece. Each movement – anchored in the pitch “C” and titled for one of the five senses – is based on a different Pentatonic (five-note) scale. The total number of measures of each movement, as well as each movement’s metronome markings, are divisible by five. Also playing a role in The Five Senses is historic symbolism, where visual artists of earlier periods sought to interpret the five senses. Brief descriptions of each movement follow.

Long associated with music, Renaissance painters often depicted hearing by the image of a lute or organ. This sustained, organ-like movement of 30 measures is in 5/2 meter throughout. Along with chords of up to six voices, this movement uses the piano’s sustain pedal to help achieve a rich and sonorous quality. Sudden dynamic contrasts (i.e. terraced dynamics) are balanced by expressive crescendos and diminuendos. The sole pitch and harmonic material comes from a Pentatonic scale made up of scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 (i.e. C, D, E, G, B).

Often depicted as a basket of fruit by visual artists, I have sought to express that image through singing melody. Marked “Deliciously singing and expressive,” five transpositions of the same Pentatonic scale serve as the melodic and harmonic basis of this movement. Five-bar phrases abound. The scale degrees used are
1, 2, 3, #4, 5 (i.e. C, D, E, F#, G), with transpositions of these notes based on the pitches Eb, F, Gb and A.

The manner of depicting touch in the visual arts has not been consistent. After the 16th century touch was often depicted by a bird perched on a woman’s raised hand. Musically, I have chosen to express touch in a playful fashion. In two voices, an ostinato (i.e. recurring bass line) consisting of a total of ten pulses (nine eighth notes and one eighth rest) is heard in the left hand and forms the foundation of the piece. A lively melody develops in the right hand. The entire five-part movement explores the number “5” by consistently pairing 2 / 4 and 3 / 4 measures. The Pentatonic scale on which the movement is based consists of the same five pitches throughout: 1, 2, b3, 5, b6 (C, D, Eb, G, Ab).

Smell in the early visual arts is often depicted through flowers or perfume. I have sought to express a certain sniffing quality by sections of halting rhythms. These sections alternate with more liquid, recitative-like sections that seek to capture the beauty of smell. With a meter of 3 / 2, the inspiration for the form of this five-part movement is the baroque triple-meter dance, the “sarabande.” A “sarabande” is a stately dance where each measure’s metric stress is on beat 2. That metrical trait is apparent throughout this movement. Intervals of the fifth are emphasized (i.e. quintal harmonies) and the Pentatonic scale on which the movement is based consists of scale degrees 1, b3, 4, 5, b7 (i.e. C, Eb, F, G, Bb).

Visual artists have often conveyed this sense by the depiction of a mirror and, even, by a flaming torch. This final movement of The Five Senses is a vibrant toccata (i.e. virtuosic piece). It is also a five-part rondo (A B A’ B’ A”). By alternating reverberant sections (holding down the sustain pedal) with “dry” ones (no pedal), clarity is the aim of both sections. The melodic material throughout the movement is first heard, then heard backwards (a musical technique of mirroring called “retrograde”). The alternating sections of the piece present the Pentatonic scale on which the movement is based in two different tonalities, C and Gb. The distance between these tonalities is a diminished fifth. They come together in a bi-tonal final section. The Pentatonic scale degrees used are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (C, D, E, F, G and, transposed, Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db).

Duration: 1. Hearing ca. 2’ 20”; 2. Taste ca. 1’ 30”; 3. Touch ca. 1’ 30”; 4. Smell ca. 2’ 00”; 5. Sight ca. 1’ 30”

Total duration = ca. 9 minutes

Dan Locklair
Winston-Salem, NC