This essay is a brief comment on a movement from Elliott Carter's 1999 song cycle Tempo e Tempi for soprano and chamber ensemble.  The fourth song, "Una Colomba," sets a poem by Italian modernist Giuseppe Ungaretti consisting of a single arresting image: (liberally translated) "I hear a dove from other floods."  The supple vocal melody, with echoes of Kurtágian brevity, is completely crafted from two imbricated all-triad hexachords (see bottom of page for an analytical reduction of the entire movement).  The introductory murmuring clarinet counterline, playing compressed chromatic filigree reminiscent of Bartók's night music, unfolds pitch classes complementary to the singer's first all-triad hexachord ([012478], henceforth abbreviated as ATH.)  Eleven of twelve pitch classes of the aggregate have been exhausted by the final syllable of the opening phrase "D'altri diluvi" ("From other floods...").  To subtly yet effectively highlight the eventual inclusion of the final pitch class (E-flat) at the midpoint of the poem, Carter scores an E-flat3 in the lowest possible register of the clarinet, departing rather surprisingly from the established narrow pitch bandwidth of the composition. Especially in music written in the final decades of his life, Carter often employed non-pitch-class parameters such as register, dynamics, and texture to draw attention to aggregate conclusion.  In response to both the presence of relative pitch-class newcomer E-flat and the recently colonized lower pitch space, the vocal line surges upward with a glorious series of perfect fourths on the eponymous word of the poem, "colomba," in due course climaxing on an E-flat and simultaneously balancing out the demarcated spatial boundaries in the process. 

After the apex, the remainder of the song subsides with more of Carter's favored set-class materials; another ATH and all-interval tetrachord (AIT) await the listener, but the manner in which those materials are partitioned and distributed creates a cadential gesture with perhaps unanticipated tonal implications.  The ultimate vocal ATH is split into an [027] (the stacked fourths motive just discussed) and a descending [037] minor triad.  (Incidentally, when one removes an [027] from an ATH the residual set is always a conventional major or minor triad.)  The clarinet's four tones instantiate an iteration of AIT [0137], {0,4,6,7}, in which the final A-flat overlaps the soprano voice in pitch space and connects the terminal sound of the song with the identical opening pitch.  More specifically, though, an E-minor triad unfurls the lingering text of the poem while the rising instrumental accompaniment penultimately offers an E-flat4 "leading tone" satisfied by restful E4 in the next measure.  The protracted E-minor arpeggiation (landing on "tonic") is altered at the instant the voices overlap – A-flat4 above the prolonged E4 evokes an E-major Picardy-third cadence point.  What does this say for the overall narrative of such a fragmentary song?  Complementary to Ungaretti's text, the invariant A-flat4 has been recontextualized in a short time from a meandering, lonely chromatic locus into a resonant Picardy-third signifier of hope – much like a single lost dove, an ordinarily doleful image, becomes the harbinger of stability and rebirth in the Biblical flood narrative.

Complete concert pitch score of Elliott Carter's "Una Colomba" from Tempo e Tempi (1999). Click to enlarge.

Author's analytical sketch of Carter's entire "Una Colomba." Click to enlarge.