The Return of Ulysses by Nikos Skalkottas: On the Interaction between Dodecaphonism and Conventional Form
Skalkottas’ Overture The Return of Ulysses, also known as Symphony in One Movement, was originally intended to serve as an overture for an opera (left unfinished) based probably on Homer’s Odyssey. Non-twelve-note “rows” (i.e. atonal structures with less or more than 12 notes, which are used serially) or concentrations or even expanded note blocks in Skalkottas’ compositions are often described just as “free” or as constructions in which twelve-note rows cannot be identified. Terms from the German music analysis like “developing variation” (entwickelnde Variation), which are used to describe procedures of the romantic area, are here proposed. We could base the exploration of the twelve-note techniques used by Skalkottas in this overture on the notion [twelve-note] harmony, which was used by the composer for the description of vertical or at least quadratic twelve-note concentrations – a characteristic kind of twelve-note presentation in this work. Skalkottas also exposes a lot of rows horizontally. We can identify certain techniques: usage of symmetry, (orthodox) transformation of a row-segment for the construction of the remaining row, construction of a row as variation of the chromatic scale, vertical presentation of rows as complementary segments. We can also observe other preferences such as construction of rows from their motivic and thematic context. For row transformation Skalkottas makes use of methods like reordering of the notes within a row, proportional modification of intervals, etc. Some rows contain localized tonality, a fact that can be explained from their formal placing and function. Some of his procedures allow comparisons with certain techniques of the Second Viennese School composers. Taking into consideration the extension of rows and their non-serial usage, it would be plausible to talk in fact about twelve-note formulation of motives, themes and complexes instead of serial usage of twelve-note rows. Finally, it can be shown that the composition is in an expanded sonata form, structure influencing the formation and transformation of the rows. We could therefore conclude that there is an interaction between form and row formation and transformation.