The obvious connection between solo instruments and musical texture is that a monophonic instrument (instruments that can only play one note at a time) is only capable of monophony and a polyphonic instrument (instruments that can play multiple notes at a time) can play polyphonic and homophonic textures.
Hundreds of years ago the concept of implied polyphony was explored by J.S. Bach in his solo works for violin and cello. He believed that it should be possible to give the impression of polyphony through monophonic lines. We’ll look at Bach’s Partita for Violin Solo No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002 – 4. Double (Presto) as an example of this technique:
Hopefully, after listening to this piece the first time, you’ll realize that its definitely not polyphonic in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, it’s extremely monophonic! Most polyphonic works require multiple listens for the listener to fully “hear” the music. That is also the case here, try listening a few more times. After each time hearing the piece you’ll recognize “hidden” melodic lines that connect the overall structure and underpin the monophonic texture.
These hidden lines were the very thing Bach was trying to accomplish in his solo violin and cello works. Click here to learn more!
We now know that monophonic instruments are somewhat capable of creating polyphonic textures, but how have composers used texture creatively for polyphonic solo instruments like piano? Let’s look at Jeux d’eau by Maurice Ravel.
Just by listening to the music, what kind of imagery would you imagine fitting with this music? If it was a movie scene what would this music accompany?
Notice how Ravel uses fast, florid notes in the right hand to accompany the left hand melodic content. This combined with the “rolled” chords in the left hand and the unusual harmonies help to give the impression of water. Ravel was associated with the impressionist movement at the turn of the 20th century so it makes sense that his music would remind us of some specific image or scene.