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Everything posted by siwi

  1. STOP! There is no such thing as a universal, archtypal 'Sonata Form'. The best we can say is that there are 'sonata forms' but even this is not accurate and 'sonata theory' is the furthest most academics will go. Do not go looking for a formula that all sonata movements are based on, because there isn't one. The idea of the sonata is a theoretic notion which is used to analyse a hughly diverse body of works written between about 1730 and 1950 and is based on what people had already written, not the other way round. Nobody devised a sonata form plan and then composers started using it as a handy cheat sheet to write pieces. It should be seen at best as a very general guide as a basis for analysis, with the expectation of some major deviations from the formula. There are absolutely no rules regarding what a sonata actually consists of. There are 'sonata' movements from the time of Haydn and earlier which have only one subject, miss out the development, recapitulate on the second subject area, have three subject areas, are split over several movements, have all the subject areas in the same key, have the development in between the subject areas, have interludes which are nothing to do with the other subjects, introduce new material in the recapitulation, use key relationships other than tonic-dominant, anything you can think of. Please do not think you can work out the formula and pin your own ideas on it to create an instant masterpiece, this has been tried by many and nevitably leads to dry, academic music that is predictable and uninspiring. As a more opinionated coda, I really feel that the sonata idea in all its forms has little more to give to composers and we should all be working towards devising new original forms of our own.
  2. Hello all, I am putting the finishing touches on a work for solo cello which utilises several extended techniques and have been struggling to find a suitable Italian term for one. The passage in question requires that the bow be drawn over the strings with less than the usual pressure so that the sound is thin and glassy (mostly upper overtones are heard) rather than the normal full tone of the instrument. It is supposed to be in the usual part of the string and not close to the bridge so ponticello would not be the correct term. Flautando came to mind but I have always understood this to require playing over the fingerboard and producing a pure tone rather than the slightly scratchy effect I intend. Can anyone suggest anything? My best attempt to coin a term is graffiato but would prefer to use something more widely understood to mean an specific technique. Attached is a sample of what I am trying to describe.graffiato sample.wav
  3. It's the convention amongst both professional and non-professional orchestras, at least in Europe, to assume divisi unless otherwise stated in the part. You need to be aware of this as a composer. The most experienced twentieth-century composers were careful always to clarify divisi or not, and in many scores it is obviously impossible to perform all the parts at once. Chamber and solo music, of course, is another matter.
  4. The thing is, individual percussion instruments seem technically easy until you factor in the likely performance circumstances. The reason a guy gets paid the same to hit a triangle a couple of times to the other guy playing his violin non-stop for two hours is that the triangle player is also being trusted to count massively long rests accurately, stay alert during long periods of rest, and move around the stage. Not to mention that he also needs to play marimba, snare drum, toms, bells, possibly timps and piano as well in his job role. Mastering the instrument is only half the work, and the learning curve of musicianship is equally hard for everybody. Any small child can bang a tambourine but how many can bang it with perfect rhythm and nuance for an entire piece?
  5. I don't want to sound presumptuous but your plea seems worryingly close to 'please provide a handy formula I can apply to generate some decent-sounding music'. This is not how composition works and we certainly don't write great music using formulas, ever. The best I can come up with is learn how to self-study. As you admit to knowing nothing about the mass besides the texts, your first line of attack should be familiarising yourself with as many extant musical examples as possible. Ideally sing some masses yourself, or failing that, listen to the works of others with scores. As for writing in the Renaissance style: firstly, seeing as there is a massive body of work from this era already, how much of a point is there really in doing so other than as a study exercise? Secondly, the fact you are only using 2-3 voices but having an organ makes a significant departure from the sixteenth-century idiom already, as most music from this period was unaccompanied and used a minimum of four voices. More interesting would be to combine elements of Renaissance music with minimalism and other styles, but again we come back to knowledge of repertoire and techniques. So start listening!
  6. Not to mention that unless you are specifically composing electronic or electro-acoustic music (for which very different samples and knowledge of production are needed), live performances/recordings have the added benefit of contact with real players who can offer advice on writing for their instruments. This is better ear training than even the most venerated instrumentation textbook. If you play piano, try and get together with others to play chamber music, or at the very least go to as many concerts as you can. My usual caveat that this, like most aspects of composition, takes years of work to build up, goes without saying.
  7. I echo the above post: please do not try and write a symphony straight off, you will give up in a few weeks and fall out of love with composing. I'm looking at PhD composition and have not yet felt ready to take on a symphony - whatever the word actually means in modern composition. Start small and you will feel like you are progressing. So what would be a good path to take? Piano is on the right track, but you should learn an orchestral instrument too and join an orchestra as soon as you are technically able to (what did you play in the concert band?). This will give you familiarity with the repertoire, knowledge of how to deploy the different instruments and hopefully some friends who can play your music. I would recommend spending some time on traditional methods of theory such as chorale harmonisation and figured bass. Whilst they may seem completely irrelavant to modern music and the style anachronistic, they actually remain the most valuable starting points for the composer even today. In particular, they will encourage you to consider the indicidual 'horizontal' lines of a texture and not just the 'vertical' chords. Too much film and TV music today is just based on overused sequences of chord-chord-chord-chord with equally cliched rhythmic devices to keep it moving and no interest in the individual parts. That's the main difference in 'sound' compared to classical concert music which isn't just an atmospheric accompaniment but a self-contained work. Play through scores at the piano. You will take apart the orchestra and see how different sections and instruments can be combined. Finally - take an interest in contemporary music, whatever that means to you. I come across far too many people who think they want to be composers but won't listen to anything that isn't a product of eighteenth- or nineteenth-century cultures. Copying the stye of Bach or Mozart to learn the basics is fine but you should think about developing an individual voice as soon afterwards as you can. However, don't fall into the trap of thinking you have to sound like Schoenberg or Philip Glass to be valid either.
  8. You've fallen for a common myth. The piece Bartok was actually satirising is part of Lehar's The Merry Widow, supposedly Hitler's favourite opera. Although the Shostakovich theme contains descending scales these are halfway through the melody and there are only two of them. Bartok's joke dissonance clearly follows the phrase struture of the Lehar and includes the whole melody, as well as making far more sense as a satire. Anyway, to address the subject, I'd have to vote for Thomas Ades. Proven in every genre, he is consistantly interesting, inventive and able to re-invent his music. That doesn't stop him from being an iconoclast, but it doesn't matter because the quality of the music is so high.
  9. Tokke indeed covers most of the points. Most orchestration books worth their salt have a chapter on laying out score and parts, and for the real engraving details books like Behind Bars are a must. The presentation of the music makes a real impression on the performers and we can instantly see whether we should trust the composer/arranger and what knowledge of our instrument they have. One thing which may be of comfort is that any decent conductor will get the score in their head before going anywhere near the first rehearsal (even a read-through). So you won't need to concern yourself with providing a score that they can scan in detail whilst waving the stick, as this is done beforehand at the piano or desk. The players, on the other hand, may well be literally sight-reading. Hiding staves that contain instruments that are resting is a good idea in scores (Sibelius has a function for this) as it means only things that matter appear on the page and can save space and create clarity. Lutosławski and others used a 'scrap-book' layout where only the actual bars an instrument it playing in are shown and the rest hidden on the same page, which is suprisingly clear.
  10. This has been asked before, but still useful to hear thoughts. I recognise many things that others have related here. I can, when neccessary, force myself to come up with ideas. Some of these will be formulae for generating ideas that I have devised. Sometimes I will think about an existing work and try and recompose it in the style of myself so that it becomes a different development altogether. But where there is sufficient time, I like to begin just by thinking about the sound of the ensemble or instruments involved and devise a gesture accordingly. If I wish to write a piano work, what sound or features would I like to include in the piece? Does this provide an opening or should it come later? Can I think of other ideas that will work with the first to create a series of 'hit points' that define the structure of the piece? Now go to the piano to try them out and then notate on Sibelius. Again the works of others can be a stimulation, to adopt a gesture or timbre from, but the majority of features do end up being original. Once a few ideas are in place a better idea of how to connect them needs to be thought about and so the piece takes shape. The playback button on Sib/Finale has been highly contraversial but one thing it will always provide is a rendition of the structure of a piece. A lot of time is spent refining the proportions of a work, whether more or less music needs to be added to any particular place to improve the direction and balance of the music. I hope to recommence formal studies next year and one thing I am keen to test whether I should adjust my process to produce stronger works. At present i sometimes feel as if I concentrate too much on creating quality ideas but am not judicious enough to deploy them as well as I might. In particuar, I find it very difficult to set aside good ideas for the sake of the work's coherance, and often move things around that I should just remove. I think I have got better at this from a few years back and can spin out fewer ideas for longer in a more convincing way, but still would like to improve further.
  11. You're aware that most European states (okay, so not Greece) will offer anybody with sufficient qualifications from free state education a place at university either through a student loan or, better still if you're Scandinavian, state funded right up to doctoral level? Money is not really an issue until it comes to getting work out of it. 'Talent': along with 'tolerance', a weasel word for our times. Means somebody who is percieved to possess a special superpower in some kind of entertainment form, this resulting from varying ratios of successful study to the ignorance of the observer. Anyway, to address the point, I find a deliciously postmodern thing to do is to intentionally set out to sound like somebody else and then, well, distort it a bit. Mahler was already doing this with all the 'horror marches' and 'broken waltzes' in his symphones (Charles Ives too, but in a different way), and the Second Viennese School then carried on the experiments via Shostakovich until we arrive at something like Berio's brilliant Sinfonia and avant garde works using 'found' materials. I'm starting to find that my compositional mission is very much involved with re-casting past forms and ideas into modern 'clothes'...
  12. No, this is absolutely not a contrapuntal piece. It is still regularly moving block chords with a bit of consonant decoration in the mix. Contrapuntal music inplies that all the lines are of equal (or nearly equal) importance to the texture*, such as is found in Bach and some Steve Reich pieces. To be honest, if you write in this style, which is essentially the same as pop music, it's very difficult to produce true counterpoint becuase you will always have a bass and harmony notes however much movement you add to disguise them, and have all voices playing chord tones all the time. Getting away and creating a genuinely new textures from this involves having harmonic movement unconstrained by the barlines. *Properly contrapuntal music is as much about rhythm as pitch.
  13. Berlioz had mastered the flute whilst still a teenager and could also play the guitar reasonably well. Wagner could play the piano at least well enough to demonstrate his scores to performers, and was also a proficient conductor, something all aspiring composers should also try to get experience in. John Mackay's music is reasonably proficient and well-written - clearly playable - but also rather conservative and not particularly distinctive in the way it uses the instruments deployed. His lack of performance experience in the ensembles he writes for shows somewhat: as well as demonstrating rather 'textbook' orchestration and inexperience with strings (too often 'stacked' rather than written in most advantagous registers, next-to-no bowings, assumes basses have a C extension, etc). He even admits in the blurb to one piece that he didn't realise that drumsticks shouldn't be used on timpani, something which all orchestration books point out and which the 'ear' of somebody used to hearing timpani in an orchestra would probably notice.
  14. 'Discourse' is certianly a highly important element in a composition, not just for the structural unity it provides but for facilitating much of the engagement with the listener. As far as I can see, the most successful works of the contemporary canon are those which address the latter purpose, whilst not simply parodying the eighteenth- and nineteeth-century dramatic elements that performed this function. Where works become weak is if other, more decorative, features overrule the discourse, or if the composer is too inexperinced or technically deficient to realise a coherant narrative. What's interesting is that this premise doesn't exclude serial, atonal, electronic works etc from being successful according to these terms, provided the composer can handle the elements and provide some subtitute for common-practice melodic and harmonic features (or else adapt them satisfactorally to the new style). Schoenberg was very aware of this, and it shows in almost all of his early atonal output. The main mistake of the later twentieth-century composers was to presume that even a highly-developed musical ear would be able to perceive highly complex structures. Essentially, art must contain drama to engage, even if this is at the most subtle level.
  15. Being able to play at least one instrument to near-professional standard. There has been no great composer who was not also a capable performer.
  16. Loads. And I don't expect this assessment to change no matter how experienced and accomplished I get. Horn parts - get stuck into19th-century chordal filling and then desperately try to get in a loud unison passage to please the players. Also tend to wander a bit high in parts 1-2 Don't fully understand how to write for 'pop' instruments, particularly guitars Have to rein in dissonance in choral writing to make it singable. I sometimes write rhythms that players can find difficult (although probably less so for professionals who are experieinced contemporary music performers) Am trying to experiment with a less 'horizontal' style of orchestration. I like a horizontal style of texture (lots of simultaneous contrapuntal lines) but I think my writing could be more innovative if I was freer in assigning this to instruments. I think in general my music could be a bit cleverer sometimes and a bit more tightly constructed. I sometimes take too long to reach a key point and this makes the music lose momentum. I can aim for unity of material to the exclusion of all else and this can result in insufficient contrast.
  17. I like to start by thinking about the ensemble or, if there is some extra-musical aspect, that. What sounds/textures/harmonies/rhythms/colours does the 'feel' of the piece suggest? If I think about the idea of 'harp and strings', I instantly think of a texture that could be used as a starting-point: the strings are holding a chord whilst the harp plays ascending notes. So I go and write that down as best I can and then try to think about how to continue it based on my memory and experience of other compositions/orchestral playing/technical limitations of the instrument/any extra-musical stimuli. As long as I'm still at it after about an hour, I can usually structure the rest of the piece around that first idea and complete it eventually. Sometimes it doesn't even get used in the final piece but it's enough of a focus to create the work around.
  18. I was in the final of an orchestral competition a few years back, but as runner-up all I got as a prize was a recording of the performance, a night in a resonable hotel and a lot of free beers from the band. To be honest, my main concern would be the amount of effort needed to compose a piece for this level of competition. I'd need to be certain of getting it published or of several performances to make it worthwhile writing even if it didn't win. Wheras, the next three pieces I'll be working on won't make much money, if any, but will be guarenteed performances and all the experience that comes with them. I don't write bespoke pieces for competitions these days - I write stuff to get performed. Whitacre does neglect to mention that competions don't fund themselves without a fee unless there is a public body or some serious philanthropy behind them. I can only imagine what Magnus Lindberg charges for his adjudication services.
  19. It's not that complicated. Strings are not like wind and brass where adding one or two players can make a big difference to the sound. First, strings can play really very quietly indeed and the more there are the easier it becomes to do this. Fifty players can be quieter than one soloist if they are all at a true pp. Second, good players have a very developed instinct for balancing with the rest of the orchestra. They know to play down underneath anybody with a more important part. So you can divide sections into almost any number of parts and the players will organise themselves to balance automatically as long as you don't do anything like pit one double bass against all the violins at forte. You can have one solo cello at the same level as all the violins though, or just the first desk of violins and all the celli. If you want one string section or sub-section to dominate a texture, just write them at a higher dynamic and keep the others out of the same register. As so often, the best advice is to find scores containing what you want to study and listen with them. IMSLP is your friend.
  20. None of the above will present any problems as long as the player is of a high technical standard. To be honest, if you are really interested in answering these kinds of questions the best thing you can do is to learn a stringed instrument yourself (NOT the guitar), failing that, make friends with string players, go to recitals and orchestral concerts. There is no substitute for first-hand knowledge and experience.
  21. So if the aim of music is to conjure up 'images' in the head of the listener, what's the point of bothering to use sound as a medium at all? Why not paint or draw or photograph instead? The entire raison d'etre of music is that it can evoke things that have no tactile form or medium, and particularly scenarios that exist temporaly, something that the visual arts (with the partial exception of cinema) cannot do. To expect music to serve as some kind of accompaniment or enhancer of another visual medium is, on the part of the composer, to fall far short of its expressive potential; and on the part of the listener, to lack the imagination neccesary to interpret ideas and schemes in a purely sonorous language.
  22. Write the three pieces I have committed to doing (performances already scheduled); put together a portfolio and apply for PhD study in composition; get a piece performed in a foreign country (suprisingly, Iceland may be the most likely); write more chamber music; get stuff recorded. This may sound more like a 'to do' list than a series of resolutions; that's because at a technical level my long-term aims in composition remain the same every January 1st.
  23. Plucking and bowing with the right hand simultaneously is to some extent possible, but is almost never used for several reasons. Only the first or second fingers (thumb not possible unless a special and unsatisfactory bow grip was devised) could extend far enough from a held bow to make clean contact with the string, and one could only pluck a string higher than (for cello/bass, lower than) another being bowed. The sound quality of the plucked note would be poor and have rapid decay due to being away from the optimal position for pizzicato, which is over the fingerboard and stopped notes would be particularly bad. Left-hand pizzicato would be a much more practical and versitile solution to achieve such an effect. You may be thinking of a type of bowing called martelato ('hammered') where the bow strikes the string with a percussive effect that can sound like it has been plucked. Alternatively it may simply be that you have seen rapid changes between pizz and arco with the bow held in the hand very close to the string.
  24. Er, what? Beethoven certainly gave his Sixth Symphony the subtitle 'Pastoral' and even provided descriptive introductions to each movement. Then there are works such as the incidental music to plays about Egmont and Coriolanus, and Fidelio which have a very definite extra-musical programme. What about The Consecration of the House, which is clearly intended to portray such a religious ceremony? What about all his leider? Christus am Olberge?
  25. Around six months to write a 30-minute cantata, although longer to think about it beforehand.
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