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Variation on themes >< Repeating themes


Rosenskjold
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So I've been in a process of writing a few piano pieces for an entrance exam, however I found myself wanting a theme to repeat with either small or no variations at all, but I was afraid it would come off as lazy or lack of capability to write variations on the theme. And I've been reading different opinions on this, where the most recent one was an interview with John Cage, expressing a huge discontent with repetations in music.

I listened to "Spiegel im spiegel" by Arvo Pärt, and i think I can safely say that the theme in that piece only varies a small degree over a long period of time (in comparison to how fast it a variation would occur). I understand why people would find it uninteresting to listen to the same theme over and over, however I myself love that exact thing, and I've listened to the same song or piece, on repeat, for several hours sometimes. Especially if the piece is loop-friendly, so it doesn't feel like a constant stop & start over process.

I have in one piece in particular an idea with having the theme repeat itself over and over, so I felt it was okay in that situation. But in general, what are your thoughts on this?

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Compose what you think is right. Just because John Cage doesn't like it doesn't mean it's wrong. I think he's foolish, but it doesn't mean he's wrong either. Music is suppose to be subjective. If you really want to get better an variations, I encourage you to figure things out for yourself, or listen to variations on a theme pieces (Plenty out there.) A lot of classical music is variations anyways. I have a love of them myself. Just my two cents on the matter.

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Don't forget that originally, the exposition of every sonata form movement was repeated in it's entirity; it's only in recent times, when audiences are already familiar with the works, that orchestras omit this repetition. I suppose this mirrors the times: in the 18th century, the audience would generally be hearing the work for the first time, and would not easily be able to hear it again; whereas these days you can listen to a CD as much as you want - and thankfully the sonata form was just flexible enough to serve both audiences.

I have no experience with composing for examination, and perhaps I'm a bit popularist in my leanings, but I think repetition is fine if it serves a valid function. I suppose it depends on the listener. If they are not expected to understand the work on the first listen (like a lot of modern works), then repetition seems the wrong choice. If they are meant to understand and appreciate in one or two listens, then repetition is probably necessary.

I think your examples bring this out. Every so often a non-musical friend will suprise me by having Pärt on their ipod, but I think Cage is reserved for the musically trained.

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Compose what you think is right. Just because John Cage doesn't like it doesn't mean it's wrong. I think he's foolish, but it doesn't mean he's wrong either. Music is suppose to be subjective. If you really want to get better an variations, I encourage you to figure things out for yourself, or listen to variations on a theme pieces (Plenty out there.) A lot of classical music is variations anyways. I have a love of them myself. Just my two cents on the matter.

Thanks for the encouragement, I'll stick to what I think is right then :) It's not that I don't like variations though, I just love repetition :P I wrote a small piece for piano some months ago, and I played it for a friend of mine who's also a composer, and he said to me: "You should write a more alternate left hand, it's too boring" I had written two series of five notes, and just repeated them all the time more or less. So I decided to take his advice, which actually turned out for something better, not that I found the original idea boring at all.

Don't forget that originally, the exposition of every sonata form movement was repeated in it's entirity; it's only in recent times, when audiences are already familiar with the works, that orchestras omit this repetition. I suppose this mirrors the times: in the 18th century, the audience would generally be hearing the work for the first time, and would not easily be able to hear it again; whereas these days you can listen to a CD as much as you want - and thankfully the sonata form was just flexible enough to serve both audiences.

That's a good point, I didn't think of that at all.

I have no experience with composing for examination, and perhaps I'm a bit popularist in my leanings, but I think repetition is fine if it serves a valid function. I suppose it depends on the listener. If they are not expected to understand the work on the first listen (like a lot of modern works), then repetition seems the wrong choice. If they are meant to understand and appreciate in one or two listens, then repetition is probably necessary.

That brings an interesting question to mind, because I wasn't thinking of a repetition like they used it in the 18th century, as you mentioned. In the 18th century they would repeat a longer part of the piece, where what I was thinking of is writing a long piece that consists of the same short musical idea. Just half an hour ago, I read this quote by John Cage: "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all. " And I wanted to hear if anyone shares that opinion. Perhaps saying "non-alternating / non-varying" is more precise.

I think your examples bring this out. Every so often a non-musical friend will suprise me by having Pärt on their ipod, but I think Cage is reserved for the musically trained.

If one of my friends had music by John Cage on their ipod, I'd be worried I think :P

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