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J. Lee Graham

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Everything posted by J. Lee Graham

  1. Movements: 1. Kyrie 2. Gloria 3. Sanctus 4. Benedictus 5. Agnus Dei Scoring: Mixed chorus a cappella (SATB) Style: Baroque stile antico, circa 1700 Composed: June 23 – July 9, 2014 at Wichita, Kansas, USA I here present my second attempt at a Missa Brevis. This one is a cappella, and in the Dorian mode throughout. The first was composed in 2000, modeled after the short Masses Mozart wrote for Salzburg Cathedral in his youth; I posted it here some years ago. This work was commissioned in 2014 by a Roman Catholic church in Colorado that supports and highly values the best in traditional church music for their liturgies. A long-time friend and colleague happened to be the director of their small but well-trained choir, and he regularly programs 16th Century polyphony for them to perform during Masses. When he proposed the commission to me, he specified that I would compose a short but solemn Mass, as well as a set of Propers (the variable parts of the Mass, including the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion) specifically for the feast day of the church’s patroness, Our Lady of Mount Carmel; he further stipulated that ideally the work would emulate Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) – his favourite composer – in style and substance. Flattered that he thought highly enough of me to think that I was capable of this, my response was that the style would be a tall order – Victoria was one of the giants of Renaissance liturgical music, and not easily imitated – but that I would gladly do my best to present him with the best polyphony I could manage. My friend was satisfied with that, so we negotiated what I thought was a fairly generous stipend, and I accepted the commission. Though it was not due to be fulfilled until the following spring, I immediately set to work (I’ve rarely been one to procrastinate on a commission), though not without some trepidation; I am relatively facile in several historical styles, but I had never attempted to write 16th Century polyphony before, and I wasn’t altogether sure I would succeed. I worked diligently and completed the entire Mass in 15 days. While the final product did not disappoint me, despite having employed all my knowledge and skill, I knew I had not produced an authentic piece of 16th Century at all. Rather, I had written a solid work in stile antico. For those unfamiliar with the term, to quote Wikipedia: “Stile antico (literally "ancient style") is a term describing a manner of musical composition from the sixteenth century onwards that was historically conscious, as opposed to stile moderno, which adhered to more modern trends. It has been associated with composers of the high Baroque and early Classical periods of music, in which composers used controlled dissonance and modal effects and avoided overtly instrumental textures and lavish ornamentation, to imitate the compositional style of the late Renaissance. Stile antico was deemed appropriate in the conservative confines of church music, or as a compositional exercise as in J. J. Fux's Gradus Ad Parnassum (1725), the classic textbook on strict counterpoint. Much of the music associated with this style looks to the music of Palestrina as a model.” I had done my best, so I presented the Mass to my patron, and to my relief, he was very pleased. The work was premiered by my friend’s choir at a festal Mass on July 19, 2015, the Sunday following the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16) when the patronal feast was observed, on which occasion the present recording was made. The following year, I was invited to come to Colorado to join the choir in performing the Mass again, and I accepted. The appreciation of the choir and congregation for my work was most affecting – a memorable experience indeed. I hope you enjoy this little Mass, and do let me know what you think of it. I’d especially like feedback on the counterpoint from any of you out there who may be experts in the art. Thanks for your time!
  2. J. Lee Graham

    Two Ländler from "Sundry Dances"

    There really isn't a particular place to put dance music for small ensemble, so I'll just put this here. These are two Ländler I have composed for the collection of dance music I call "Sundry Dances," which I have been compiling for about the last 14 years. The one in D major I composed just this evening; the one in G major was a couple of years ago, in 2016. I absolutely love dance music, and I've been studying dance music for many years; "Sundry Dances" contains many different ballroom dances, from the Fandango to the Quadrille and everything in between. Every now and then when the mood strikes me, I add to the set, and this evening was one such occasion. The Ländler is an Austrian folk dance that became popular in Vienna and elsewhere in Central Europe as a ballroom dance in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. It is believed to have contributed to the development of the Waltz. Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, among others, wrote Ländler. Depending on whether it is danced in the original folk versions or as a ballroom dance, it can be either rustic or elegant. It is the elegant version I have posted here, though they still contain material and gestures particular to the folk dance, which might sound "Austrian" to the listener, such as melodic material reminiscent of yodeling, or certain characteristic figures particularly at cadences. The Ländler dance itself is one of the more delightful folk dances I know of. In the following film clip from the classic film "The Sound of Music" (1965), Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) and Maria (Julie Andrews) beautifully dance a Ländler to the the charming music of Richard Rogers (1902-1979); Rogers must have really done his homework, because his music perfectly captures the character of the dance. The variant on the Ländler they are dancing is probably from Salzburg and its environs, as Salzburg is the setting of the film. There are as many variations as there are towns, districts, mountains, and valleys in Austria, practically, but this one is particularly charming. So, here are my offerings, such as they are. Enjoy!
  3. Anybody find this of interest? I must admit it's intriguing, if nothing else. For myself though, the day as a composer that I can't come up with a decent melody on my own and have to rely on a machine for help is the day I hang it up. "I beseech thee Lord, give me a theme; I can do anything if you will only give me a theme." --daily prayer of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
  4. J. Lee Graham

    Variations on an Original Theme

    @aMusicComposer It's very possible, even likely, that things will sound more natural when you're playing the piece live. Are you able to play the whole piece, and if so, do you have the means to record yourself playing it? I for one would love to hear a performance of this piece by a live human, and the composer is a bonus! I find that a pretty fair amount of my criticism is based on whether I personally would have done something a certain way, and given the rather narrow tolerances I allow myself, that doesn't leave much room for composers who envision things in ways I'd never dream of, but which just might be perfectly valid. For this reason I'm often hesitant to critique, but I need to get over that, and just say what I have to say from my own experience and sensibilities. I just don't want to criticize someone for just being innovative, or expressing themselves in a uniquely personal way, but I'm not always sure whether that's what's going on! 😉 Taking what I've said with a grain of salt, then, inasmuch as you seem to think some of the harmonic changes could be better, are there any specific places in the piece where YOU are not satisfied? Where are they? I'd be interested to see if we agree on some of them, at which point maybe we could figure out how they might be improved.
  5. J. Lee Graham

    Variations on an Original Theme

    I checked this out again, and I think I may be wrong in my assessment. Just because something is unexpected doesn't mean it's poorly set up. I use unexpected harmonic shifts myself. Just because yours are different from mine doesn't make them bad.
  6. J. Lee Graham

    Variations on an Original Theme

    @aMusicComposer I'm at work just checking in, but I'll give the score another look this evening and give you an example or two. Keep in mind, this is just my opinion, and I tend to be rather conservative! 🙂
  7. J. Lee Graham

    Sonatina in A for Clarinet and Piano

    Thanks so much! I love the clarinet, and even though I'm a string player, I try always to be sensitive to the specific needs of wind and brass players. Thanks again!
  8. J. Lee Graham

    Sonatina in A for Clarinet and Piano

    Movements: 1. Allegro moderato (Sonata form) 2. Berceuse - Andante (Binary form - ABA) 3. Rondo - Allegretto (Rondo form - ABACABA) A little sonatina I wrote featuring the clarinet - that is, clarinet in A, as one might surmise. I'd not have composed a piece in A major for B-flat clarinet...that would be cruel. 😉 I'm not sure where the impetus came from to compose this piece. I just got an idea, and went with it. I began composing this toward the end of 2017, set it aside for a while, then completed it this evening. Not much more to say about it than that. It's rather short, as one might expect, and the music will speak for itself. Hope you enjoy it!
  9. J. Lee Graham

    Viola Concerto in A major - Traveller

    This is a masterpiece. I enjoyed it immensely - as a music-lover, as a composer, and as a violist. And as a violist, I want to thank you sincerely. There are too few concerti of this quality available to us. This spurs me on to complete my own concerto, which has been wanting a final movement for years now! I must compliment you on the very reasonable forces you have called for in your orchestra, to say nothing of the beautiful and skillful way you've handled them. Very much more, and the viola would be drowned out. There are times when even so, the orchestration is a little thick, but I want to believe that a sensitive ensemble will scale back and give the viola some room. One of the problems with the viola is that its body is considerably too small for its range, but if it were any larger, it would be physically unplayable, hence we have to accept that the viola will always have a smaller sound than we would like. In a way, this reads almost like a concerto for chamber orchestra that just happens to feature the viola, the orchestral writing is so good. I somehow doubt you're a string player. Some of what you've asked for from your soloist, though not theoretically impossible, is almost beyond the pale. Overall, the almost unbelievable technical difficulty of what you've written puts this piece beyond the reach of any but the very best players in the entire world, and that should be a concern for you. I would not inhibit your creative vision for the world, but if you ever want to get this piece played, I would earnestly suggest to you that you consult the very best violist you can find and find out what s/he thinks, and be ready to do some editing. You may be surprised and even disappointed, but at least you'll know what's realistic if you ever want to hear a performance of this fine piece of music. I'm a good violist, but not a great one; but were I five times the player I am, I wouldn't touch this piece. I couldn't begin to do it justice. Seriously, seek out a really, really good violist and consult. I don't really want to say this, but another of the difficulties of writing for the viola as soloist is that, compared to the violin and the 'cello, relatively little is ever expected of violists, and as a result there are very few of us who have the technical mastery necessary to tackle a piece like this. This may be an unpopular thing to say, but it's the truth. Now, I have to take you to task just a little regarding your multiple stops. There may have been others that flew by too quickly and I missed, but in the cadenza, I noticed three triple stops that were literally impossible to play on the instrument; the problem with them is that you've called for two notes that have to be played on the same string at the same time. They are in measures 694, 701, and 706. You'll want to rewrite the triple stops in those measures, unfortunately, or leave off the top notes in each and make them a double stop; if you don't, it will just look like you don't know what you're doing, and this work is simply too good for that assessment. Give those measures a look and see what else you can come up with that will work. Once again, my sincerest compliments, and my thanks for taking me on a musical journey worth every moment of my time, and which I won't soon forget.
  10. J. Lee Graham

    Fantasia in E Minor

    Very nice! You both must be pretty proficient players. The keys you've chosen are kind of icky for the saxophone, if you ask me, but as long as your sister is not complaining! Good job!
  11. J. Lee Graham

    Five Friedrich Pictures

    Oh MAN Noah! These are COOL! I looked at the paintings before perusing your scores, and I think you've captured the character of the art in music beautifully. Your thematic material, your orchestral colors, the huge variety of textures - first rate, man! I only wish it were a real orchestra playing these. All in good time! What's your instrument? I suspect you're a fiddle-player, 'cause you've given the concertmaster as well as the principal 'cellist a very nice showpiece here, along with gorgeous solos for several of the principal winds. Dang but you've done a nice job handling your orchestra! I think I'm almost jealous! A word with you about articulations though (or the lack thereof): you said this score was pretty rough, but there are a lot of passages in here that I couldn't help feeling should be slurred more - or something. At first I thought maybe you'd just not put any in anywhere, but then I noticed some used judiciously here and there; but still, are you sure you want all those lovely melodies tongued or bowed on every note? If I were you, I'd keep in mind that just because playback plays every note full value, that doesn't mean live musicians are going to, and I'd be more specific about what I wanted played more smoothly, else you might end up with each note articulated separately, and I don't think that's what you're going for. If you know this is exactly what you want, then great, but I just thought I'd mention it in case it was something you hadn't given much thought. You did a really good job of writing idiomatically for most of the instruments. I loved your harp parts in particular - they're idiomatic and add an ethereal quality like any good harp part. I think you may have asked too much of your poor glockenspiel player in movement 5 though; at that tempo, I'm not at all sure what you've written can be played accurately. I'm not a percussionist though, so I might be wrong; all I know is I probably wouldn't have written it. It sure sounds cool though! 😄 Congratulations on what to my ears and sensibilities is a triumph of programmatic music making! Keep up the good work!
  12. Okay, I've heard the first two concerti in the set so far, and I have tell you that I'm very impressed. I haven't always agreed with everything you were doing in the past, and I told you so many years ago. But you were young then, and I see that years of study, hard work, and experience have made you a master, so I tip my hat to you. Well done indeed!
  13. Simen! I'll listen to one or two of these later when I'm more at leisure, but I really must congratulate you on this monumental achievement! I took a quick look at the score, and it really looks like you've captured the Italian spirit and style. Looking forward to hearing them!
  14. Well, for someone who confesses not to know what he's doing, your instincts are pretty darn good. I actually don't hear anything impractical at all about this, except that the lower parts stay very low throughout; in fact, I could swear that some of the notes were below the standard flute's range and would have to be played by an alto flute. Not having a score, I can't readily verify this. The richness of your harmonic language and the closeness of the harmony are attractive. Are you composing using notation software, or a sequencer? It would be really helpful to actually see what you're doing by having a score. Keep on writing! Experience is one of the best teachers, but maybe somebody here has some ideas as to resources for you. I'm almost entirely self taught, so I'm not going to be much help there. Good luck!
  15. J. Lee Graham

    Ave Maria

    I saw this and your commentary about it, and I had to see what you'd done. A couple of years ago, when I was feeling very worried about mankind and the world, I wrote an Ave Maria "in tempore tribulationis" (in time of trouble), by hand and in one sitting, and it was very dark indeed, so I understand the impetus behind what you were trying to achieve here. Some of your harmonies remind me of Arvo Pärt - one of the most important choral composers alive now. Your writing has effectively conveyed a mood of sorrow and anxiety. I have to take you to task about the tessitura of your soprano part. In choral music, it's almost never a good idea to take the sopranos up to high-C; and to expect a piano dynamic on a high B-flat is not reasonable. That said, the climax you reach at "Jesu" is very effective...it's just not advisable choral writing. Remain mindful of the meaning of your Latin text; it doesn't make sense to repeat and linger on a word like "nunc" (now), for example. Why the F-flat on the word "mortis"? I'm not sure I understand why you did that. Just write an E, as you've done in the soprano. What you did on the word "nostrae," the culmination of the phrase "nunc et in hora mortis nostrae" (now and at the hour of our death) is bone-chilling! Very nicely done. In conclusion, I admonish you once again to be careful not to take your choral parts too high (or low) in their range.
  16. J. Lee Graham

    Variations on an Original Theme

    This piece is fantastic in the truest sense of the word. There is tons of variety and imagination throughout. My main misgiving is that some of your harmonic changes feel too abrupt or not properly set up. Similarly, your melodic lines occasionally don't seem to go where it makes sense. I think more experience will benefit you in smoothing these things over though. You clearly have a talent for composition and I admire, even envy, your creativity.
  17. Interesting. Might enter this one. I just entered my first competition last month and now I'm fired up.
  18. 1. Allegro (sonata form) 2. Andante cantabile (sonata form) 3. Vivace (rondo form) Scoring: Solo Oboe, Flute, 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, Strings. Composed March 13 - May 4, 2018. The first considerable work I composed in 2018, this is a pretty standard Classical-style concerto, my second complete major work for solo instrument and orchestra. I'd like to believe it's an attractive work that showcases the soloist well. I consulted a classical oboist during and after working on this piece, and I was told that it was "considerably difficult, but not impossible" to play on the classical oboe, particularly the several high-Es I have called for, some of the passage work in the development section of the first movement, and the "frightful" series of descending chromatic trills I wrote in the middle of the second movement. He also told me that some of the difficulty would be mitigated on the modern oboe, which should come as little surprise - the limitations of 18th Century instruments were what prompted instrument makers to "improve" them during the first half of the 19th Century. Finally, he said that the writing was in a bravura style reminiscent of 18th Century French composers of oboe concerti, which I found interesting, because I was not familiar with any of the composers he mentioned. At any rate, I wouldn't mind at all any feedback from oboists on the idiomatic qualities and difficulty of this piece, for future reference. Any other feedback is naturally welcome as well. I have provided a cadenza, but of course the soloist is welcome to compose his/her own. In the interest of full disclosure, since good composers borrow and great ones steal, I have appropriated four measures of music from Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) in the B theme of the Rondo (final movement). Enjoy!
  19. J. Lee Graham

    Concerto in C for Oboe and Orchestra

    Wow, thanks very much y'all! I really appreciate the feedback. @aMusicComposer: I wasn't aware that it was more difficult to produce a clear sound on a double-reed instrument in fast scales and passagework. I'm a string player, yet I know how to write for the oboe in an ordinary orchestral setting, but I'll keep in mind what you've said the next time I write for oboe as a solo instrument. In my Sinfonia Concertante, which included solo oboe, I didn't write nearly as much bravura material, and yet the player for whom I wrote it still had some trouble playing the piece on a classical oboe (which of course has much fewer keys than the modern oboe), and again, the one high-E I wrote for him he squawked in performance. It's apparently a slightly more idiosyncratic instrument than I though, and I'll need to keep that in mind. I'm always learning! A little bit of oboe history that concerns the upper limits of the instrument's range: I didn't know this until recently, but Mozart wrote his Oboe Quartet for a virtuoso named Friedrich Ramm (1744-1813), whose claim to fame beyond his uncommon virtuosity was that he was the only known oboist in Europe who could play a high-F (above high-C). Ramm had Mozart write a high-F for him to play in the last movement of the quartet so that ostensibly nobody else would be able to play the piece but him. Of course, once the 19th Century improvements to the oboe had been made, this note became a lot easier to play, and the work is now a staple of the solo oboe repertoire. But on the Classical Oboe, apparently anything above E-flat is risky.
  20. J. Lee Graham

    Fugue in D minor

    What a fascinating little piece! I really must congratulate you! While I'm a lot stricter in my counterpoint than you are, what you've done still has a lot of technical integrity. I absolutely LOVE the unexpected little forays into chromaticism, such as in the soprano voice in measure 9. Having listened to both versions, I agree with some of the previous posters that the second version is much improved. Well done.
  21. J. Lee Graham

    Ave Regina Caelorum

    Thanks very much, both of you! I may rethink the big leap in the soprano somehow, or encourage them to reset quickly by singing the previous note shorter, if that would work. I don't sing soprano, so I confess I don't know all its vagaries! Thanks again!
  22. J. Lee Graham

    Ave Regina Caelorum

    Ave Regina Caelorum Marian Antiphon for Lent 4 Voices a cappella (SATB) Mode: F Mixolydian Composed: 23-27 May, 2017 Style: 18th Century stile antico closely emulating Late-Renaissance, ca. 1600 Duration: 1 minute, 30 seconds Text: Ave, Regina Caelorum, Ave, Domina Angelorum: Salve, radix, salve, porta Ex qua mundo lux est orta: Gaude, Virgo gloriosa, Super omnes speciosa, Vale, o valde decora, Et pro nobis Christum exora. Translation: Hail, O Queen of Heaven. Hail, O Lady of Angels Hail! thou root, hail! thou gate From whom unto the world, a light has arisen: Rejoice, O glorious Virgin, Lovely beyond all others, Farewell, most beautiful maiden, And pray for us to Christ. Last Sunday, the director of the Schola Cantorum of St. Mary's Cathedral here in Austin, Texas was complaining to me that he was having trouble finding settings of Ave Regina Caelorum that he liked or felt were workable, and he asked me if I had any free time to write a setting for the Schola. I got inspired and by Tuesday began composing this setting, which I just finished last night. I used sixth comma meantone temperament in the recording of the rendering to better emulate the kind of tuning a choral group would probably use in this style and mode, and I used woodwind samples because clarity is lost with the wretched choral samples I have available to me. Being self-taught in this style as in almost everything else, I'm seriously concerned that I have done this according to the rules of 16th Century polyphony, as I understand them. I hope this piece is enjoyable, but by all means, if any of you notice anything in it that I may have done wrong, I'd like to know about it. Thanks!
  23. J. Lee Graham

    Commercial #1

    Very nice! I've been meaning to write a review of the application, but I'm having some difficulty understanding some aspects of it. I've been a Finale user too long, I suppose.
  24. J. Lee Graham

    Composing on Paper or Notation Program

    Interesting to see all the different methods, and why they are employed. I started composing before there were even computers, much less notation software, so I cut my teeth writing whole scores out on paper - usually using pencil, because early on I tended to make a lot of mistakes. Nowadays, I tend to scribble down ideas on paper, often on anything that happens to be at hand - even a paper napkin at a restaurant. My husband complains about all the Post-It notes I leave lying around that I dash ideas off on while I'm at work during the day. Once I've got the initial idea (a melody) down, I do a fleshed-out sketch in either pen or pencil of whatever I'm hearing in my head, pretty much fully orchestrated, until I'm satisfied I've I've got enough down, and then I enter the sketch into Finale when I have time at home and continue from there. From that point, most of the composition process happens on the computer. I do a lot of sketching sitting in my car on my lunch hour at work. I still will occasionally write out a whole piece or movement by hand, though. There is something about it that feels satisfying. A typical sketch in my writing:
  25. J. Lee Graham

    Trio in B-flat for Viola, Violoncello, and Contrabass

    Thank you very kindly! It was pretty tricky to pull off, but I knew the capabilities and colours of all three instruments very well, and I was careful how I combined them. I'm glad you enjoyed it! In fact, I rather specialize in odd combinations of instruments. I also wrote a Trio for English Horn, Viola, and Contrabass that I may post here at some point. Believe it or not, that worked too!