Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
luderart

Soliloquy for Viola No. 5

Recommended Posts

This is my 5th soliloquy for viola.

Here is the link to my 4th soliloquy for viola with its two versions:

http://www.youngcomposers.com/archive/music/listen/4150/soliloquy-for-viola-no-4/

Since I see that it is no longer possible to comment on pieces from the archives where this previous soliloquy is located, I would ask that anyone who listens to it and would like to comment on it please do so here.

 

Edited by luderart
MP3
0:00
0:00
PDF

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very nice. I think you've been clever using the double stops here.

Your ideas for the soliloquies are wonderful. They are as little gems. I wonder if you have thoug about expand and develop some of them (with some orher instrument? Anywat, they are good.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is very nice! It's always great to see the viola getting some cool repertoire. I love the viola. It's been under-represented in the past, imho.

I liked the fourth one even better! It's a bit of a different style for me, but very nice regardless. Would be cool to hear a soloist perform this.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Seemingly your music has finally begun to find its audience. The main issue is, as usual, our itch to hear what can be done with any musical idea, rather than just the idea itself. Nevertheless, miniatures are (and have always been) as much of valid musical expressions as large symphonies. I must commend you for your steadiness and for sticking to your ideas, and also for picking such an underused instrument as the viola. Good job!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with JairCrawfod and Austenite.

Your ideas are amazing by themselves. And many times, when this miniatures come to mind, they are what they are, and trying to do something larger or different doesn't work.

I also like the viola very much.

Philip Glass (i adore him) wrote "A madrigal opera" for six singers, violin, and viola. Part III of the opera is a long soliloquy for viola solo. Perhaps you like it (or you know it):

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest

This is a very good solo, very melodic, very singable. It draws you in.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for your reviews, Luis Hernandez, Jair Crawford, Austenite, and PedroJoséBernardezSarria.

 

On 5/28/2016 at 8:15 PM, JairCrawford said:

This is very nice! It's always great to see the viola getting some cool repertoire. I love the viola. It's been under-represented in the past, imho.

I liked the fourth one even better! It's a bit of a different style for me, but very nice regardless. Would be cool to hear a soloist perform this.

 

 

I also think that the viola has been under-represented. Listening to the 4th soliloquy after a long time, I also found myself thinking of it as perhaps the better work!

I agree it would be great to have this performed. For my past soliloquies for viola as well as for my "Viola Inkling", danishali903, an able viola player, performed and recorded them for me. Here is the link of the "Viola Inkling" in which I have posted his performance.

http://www.youngcomposers.com/archive/music/listen/4487/viola-inkling-no-1/

 

On 5/29/2016 at 11:19 AM, Luis Hernández said:

Your ideas are amazing by themselves. And many times, when this miniatures come to mind, they are what they are, and trying to do something larger or different doesn't work.

Philip Glass (i adore him) wrote "A madrigal opera" for six singers, violin, and viola. Part III of the opera is a long soliloquy for viola solo. Perhaps you like it (or you know it)

 

It is great to hear such high praise about my soliloquy ideas.

Thanks for the Philip Glass viola solo from the "A Madrigal Opera". I didn't know it and found it to be wonderful, mesmerizing music for the viola.

 

On 5/29/2016 at 8:49 AM, Austenite said:

Nevertheless, miniatures are (and have always been) as much of valid musical expressions as large symphonies. I must commend you for your steadiness and for sticking to your ideas, and also for picking such an underused instrument as the viola. Good job!

 

 

Thanks Austenite. Glad to know that you appreciate my "steadiness and sticking to [my] ideas", and my picking the viola for this soliloquy. The range of the viola, between the violin and the cello, as well as its characteristic sound are what appeal a lot to me.

Edited by luderart

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I enjoy your little pieces. Although I enjoy writing in long forms and typically spend a lot of time developing a piece before I let anyone see it, I understand that there is sometimes we are inspired with a little idea that can only stand on its own. 

Although I enjoyed the fourth soliloquy, I think this one is better in that it is more focused and isn't trying to explore too many ideas for its small form. And Luis is right about the double stops. Saving them until the end of the piece is a clever idea. 

For those of us who want to hear something more developed from your works, perhaps we could develop them on our own as a little exercise sometime, to see what could be done with them. I happen to think the triplet-quarter motif in this piece could maybe be made into a fugue, for instance. (It also just occurred to me that that rhythm which makes up most of your soliloquy no. 5 is the same "short-short-short-long" as Beethoven used throughout his symphony no. 5. Maybe this was intentional?)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
25 minutes ago, fishyfry said:

I enjoy your little pieces. Although I enjoy writing in long forms and typically spend a lot of time developing a piece before I let anyone see it, I understand that there is sometimes we are inspired with a little idea that can only stand on its own. 

Although I enjoyed the fourth soliloquy, I think this one is better in that it is more focused and isn't trying to explore too many ideas for its small form. And Luis is right about the double stops. Saving them until the end of the piece is a clever idea. 

For those of us who want to hear something more developed from your works, perhaps we could develop them on our own as a little exercise sometime, to see what could be done with them. I happen to think the triplet-quarter motif in this piece could maybe be made into a fugue, for instance. (It also just occurred to me that that rhythm which makes up most of your soliloquy no. 5 is the same "short-short-short-long" as Beethoven used throughout his symphony no. 5. Maybe this was intentional?)

 

Thanks for your review fishyfry. I would be interested to hear a development of my ideas from someone else. One of my soliloquies' themes was used in a challenge and two or three members of YC wrote pieces based on it. You can still find them somewhere in the archives. KJ's is uploaded in the new website too.

I hadn't realized that the rhythm is the same as Beethoven's 5th Symphony. There was nothing intentional. It might have been an unconscious use of that famous "fate" rhythm in a totally different context and mood. And the same rhythm was present in Haydn, for example in his String Quartet Op. 50, No. 4 (the 1st movement "Allegro Spirituoso", which is built on that rhythm plus two notes), as well as in other works by Beethoven himself.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/14/2016 at 8:53 PM, luderart said:

Thanks for your review fishyfry. I would be interested to hear a development of my ideas from someone else. One of my soliloquies' themes was used in a challenge and two or three members of YC wrote pieces based on it. You can still find them somewhere in the archives. KJ's is uploaded in the new website too.

I hadn't realized that the rhythm is the same as Beethoven's 5th Symphony. There was nothing intentional. It might have been an unconscious use of that famous "fate" rhythm in a totally different context and mood. And the same rhythm was present in Haydn, for example in his String Quartet Op. 50, No. 4 (the 1st movement "Allegro Spirituoso", which is built on that rhythm plus two notes), as well as in other works by Beethoven himself.

 

The thing is, it is not short-short-short-long but (silence)-short-short-short-long. I am completely baffled by the tradition of certain conductors, spearheaded by Daniel Barenboim, of performing the opening bars in a slow triplet feel. Apart from the fermatas there is nothing special about the beginning - it should absolutely be played in the same tempo as the rest of the movement.

luderart, I have to level with you - I do not find this nor any of your compositions impressive. I say this out of respect for the abundant passion you have for music. This type of passion is truly rare and I really do hate to see it poorly directed. You seem to be under the false pretense that aphorism is the same as modesty - which is not true. If you really study the aphoristic forms, master of which being the Beethovenian bagatelle, you will discover instead of poverty of ideas an incredible richness and imagination. The basic concept behind these types of works is to compress the entire process of composition into one continuous homogenous process. Instead of presenting a set of ideas and developing them by producing new unexpected meanings, the ideas are already developed in all directions as they are presented resulting in extremely dense compositions with way too many concurrent ideas. The art, and the reason why it is such a demanding form, lies in balancing this density and making the music just easy enough to understand. Take for example Beethoven Op. 126 No. 4 (53:29):

This is certainly not a trivial composition intended for reflection on an isolated idea. In fact, I think these last six bagatelles are some of the finest works in Beethoven's output - the immense depth and scope of these little piano pieces is incredible.

The problem with your music, that which I have heard anyway, is that the rhythmic writing is almost completely static and the tonal material is clumsy and lacking in focus. There is also no meaningful dialog between the form and the material, nor between the instrument and the material. I get the feeling that your composition process doesn't adapt philosophically to the different instruments you choose; it seems to be a question of timbre and range and maybe a vague sense of the boundaries and not much else.

I really hate to be so harsh, but I do not like dishonesty. This is a place of learning and I hope you are here for criticism. Lo, criticism is upon you - do with it as you wish. Whatever you do though, don't stop composing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Gylfi said:

The thing is, it is not short-short-short-long but (silence)-short-short-short-long. I am completely baffled by the tradition of certain conductors, spearheaded by Daniel Barenboim, of performing the opening bars in a slow triplet feel. Apart from the fermatas there is nothing special about the beginning - it should absolutely be played in the same tempo as the rest of the movement.

luderart, I have to level with you - I do not find this nor any of your compositions impressive. I say this out of respect for the abundant passion you have for music. This type of passion is truly rare and I really do hate to see it poorly directed. You seem to be under the false pretense that aphorism is the same as modesty - which is not true. If you really study the aphoristic forms, master of which being the Beethovenian bagatelle, you will discover instead of poverty of ideas an incredible richness and imagination. The basic concept behind these types of works is to compress the entire process of composition into one continuous homogenous process. Instead of presenting a set of ideas and developing them by producing new unexpected meanings, the ideas are already developed in all directions as they are presented resulting in extremely dense compositions with way too many concurrent ideas. The art, and the reason why it is such a demanding form, lies in balancing this density and making the music just easy enough to understand. Take for example Beethoven Op. 126 No. 4 (53:29).

This is certainly not a trivial composition intended for reflection on an isolated idea. In fact, I think these last six bagatelles are some of the finest works in Beethoven's output - the immense depth and scope of these little piano pieces is incredible.

The problem with your music, that which I have heard anyway, is that the rhythmic writing is almost completely static and the tonal material is clumsy and lacking in focus. There is also no meaningful dialog between the form and the material, nor between the instrument and the material. I get the feeling that your composition process doesn't adapt philosophically to the different instruments you choose; it seems to be a question of timbre and range and maybe a vague sense of the boundaries and not much else.

I really hate to be so harsh, but I do not like dishonesty. This is a place of learning and I hope you are here for criticism. Lo, criticism is upon you - do with it as you wish. Whatever you do though, don't stop composing.

 

Thanks Gylfi for your honest opinion and criticism. I agree that Beethoven is a great genius and master of composition. I am not comparing myself with him. In fact, I don't believe any composer can be compared to him. He is unique. All the greatest composers are singular in their uniqueness and genius. Such are also Bach and Mozart, and Haydn and Handel, Brahms, Chopin, and others. Beethoven in particular, is a big inspiration to me. Indeed the Op. 126 set of bagatelles is far greater than the title "bagatelle" would imply. And the fourth one is indeed a great one, the greatest one that he ever wrote in my opinion.

My pieces are entirely based on inspiration. And I develop the initial inspiration in the best way that I can, believing that music without inspiration is worthless. I have limited technical knowledge; however, I am open and willing to learn and improve, in my  own time and provided such learning and improvement does not spell the drying out of my inspiration (since for me composition is not a "profession" but a hobby that I love, or maybe rather an existential necessity I am not willing to wager for anything). And I seek to keep the development of my pieces natural, and not deliberately dictated by technique. It just happens that my pieces are short, and - in your opinion - suffer from a poverty of ideas (or maybe a poverty of technique?). Perhaps in a few years' time they will sound so also to me, from a future and improved composer's perspective. In that sense I am not against constructive criticism. What I am against is criticism for the sake of criticism, or vague and generalizing criticism that is not specific and does not offer a clear way to improve.

I would be grateful if you could elaborate on the following criticism(s) so that it would be constructive for me and I would be able to benefit from it in the future, or improve myself as a composer in response:

"... the rhythmic writing is almost completely static and the tonal material is clumsy and lacking in focus. There is also no meaningful dialog between the form and the material, nor between the instrument and the material. I get the feeling that your composition process doesn't adapt philosophically to the different instruments you choose; it seems to be a question of timbre and range and maybe a vague sense of the boundaries and not much else."

To be more specific, here are some questions regarding the above criticism:

1. I agree that it is a characteristic of most of my music that the rhythm is often static. But how am I supposed to create rhythmic variety, and more importantly to keep it coherent with the rest of the rhythm?

2. What do you exactly mean by "clumsy"?

3. What do you exactly mean by "lacking in focus"?

4. Can you give examples of "meaningful dialog between the form and the material", and "between the instrument and material"?

5. How is my composition process supposed to "adapt philosophically to the different instruments" that I choose? Indeed sometimes, it is a matter of arbitrariness whether I choose one instrument over another, based on my initial inspiration. But mostly, it is a matter of deciding the most appropriate instrument for the specific inspiration that I have had. If there are other ways to adapt to the instrument or to choose the instrument, please enlighten me. Brahms I believe wrote his Clarinet Sonatas Op. 120 for Clarinet or Viola. So that would imply that ideas don't have to be drastically adapted to the instrument (as you seem to demand) and can be above specific instruments. And for me, music is above any specific instrument. It is music first and only later music for a specific instrument, a musical idea first and only later an idea for a specific instrument. If it has to adapt, it has to adapt only in terms of the specific timbre and range of the instrument, and its idiom, to make use of those as the instrument's strengths and limitations. Yet I agree that the greatest masters' pieces for specific instruments often seem to be composed perfectly for those instruments. But that is not always the case and doesn't have to be the case (as long as the piece is playable on the instrument for which it is written). It would be nice to hear others' opinions in this matter. And anyway, I think it is a matter of opinion or subjectivity to say that my pieces do not adapt to the instruments for which they are written, as evidenced in your very phrase "I get the feeling....". What I am more interested in as constructive criticism is objective facts rather than feelings.  Apart from the foregoing, I suspect that there are a lot of things I still need to learn about many of the instruments' particular capabilities and limitations in order to be able to compose more specifically and suitably for them in the future. Towards that end, I am open to any knowledge you might be able to offer (or point to resources that do so) regarding any instrument, its limitations and particular capabilities.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

My pieces are entirely based on inspiration. And I develop the initial inspiration in the best way that I can, believing that music without inspiration is worthless. I have limited technical knowledge; however, I am open and willing to learn and improve, in my own time and provided such learning and improvement does not spell the drying out of my inspiration (since for me composition is not a "profession" but a hobby that I love, or maybe rather an existential necessity I am not willing to wager for anything). And I seek to keep the development of my pieces natural, and not deliberately dictated by technique.

As the saying goes: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing". I am of the opinion that the only way knowledge can work against you is if you do not understand what you are learning. The reason you study technique - which is very frustrating and sometimes even boring - is not to know how to consistently apply trite devices but rather to learn by experience the particular consequences of certain decisions. If you do this enough you get to the point where you can solve problems that don't seem to have a direct precedence because you develop a sensitivity which makes it possible for you to understand them on a deep level. Inspiration is a very great illusion - that is not to say that it is not possible to be inspired nor that it is undesirable (I would agree that music without inspiration is worthless). Emotion is something that occurs within your own body and which is only fully perceived by you. The expression of emotion, through verbal language and body language, is something which is learned and must be practiced to become natural. In fact, you could argue that the only true forms of external emotion are the primitive expressions of pain and joy, etc. That doesn't make more nuanced forms of expression less valid, just more abstract. Consider how this applies to an instrumentalist. It is sometimes said that the most important quality in an instrumentalist is emotional investment and spontaneity of expression. Perhaps - but one must not forget that all instruments, even the voice, are inherently counter-intuitive. In order to be "spontaneous", you have to make split second decisions between sets of very complicated interrelated procedures which cannot be performed unless they have been drilled into the muscle memory. Playing spiccato is not as simple as just wanting to play something spiccato. It is true that instrumentalists have to deal with real-time execution whereas composers theoretically have an infinite amount of time. But what of improvisers, who have to make split-second decisions of the nature found in composition? There are some improvisers who "play from the heart" and do not wish for their creativity to be dictated by formulas. Their creativity is in fact usually polluted by formulas of a less sophisticated kind which their brain has internalized to the point where they can use them without expending conscious thought. What they don't realize is that this is exactly what "formula" musicians do too, only they have a much wider bank available to them and thus have more nuance of expression. It should be obvious how this applies to our discussion of composition. You master the use of basic tools which makes it possible for you to craft complicated structures with ease. You still have the same brain as you did before you started studying the techniques; you will only lose touch with your creativity if you allow yourself to be dictated by the technique and not vice versa.

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

What I am against is criticism for the sake of criticism, or vague and generalizing criticism that is not specific and does not offer a clear way to improve.

Hey, I am completely sympathetic and am sorry I wasn't more specific to begin with - I will gladly follow up on all of my points.

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

1. I agree that it is a characteristic of most of my music that the rhythm is often static. But how am I supposed to create rhythmic variety, and more importantly to keep it coherent with the rest of the rhythm?

This is something I am studying at the moment because to be honest I have a very primitive understanding of rhythmic organization. So while I cannot offer specific technical advice which I swear by, I can at least tell you as a keen observer of rhythm that verbatim repetition is something that is best used with great caution. I suggest studying rhythmical transformations by the masters and working your way from there. In order to create coherency it is generally recommended to use a limited number of truly independent rhythmic structures and creating large structures solely by varying these directly.

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

2. What do you exactly mean by "clumsy"?

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

3. What do you exactly mean by "lacking in focus"?

I'll point out the things which I find could be better realized:

1) Look at the melodic outline of your phrases:

Phrase 1: (C) (D-flat C) (D-flat C) (D-flat C) (G F) (E-flat D-flat) (C B-flat) (G G) (F F).

Here you have a pattern of descending steps on the beat which is broken at the very end before the cadence. Not a bad idea, considering that you also reverse the melodic direction at this moment, but the effect is ruined by repeating it immediately in the resolution, therefore undermining the tension by releasing it only very weakly. It deserves mention that the entire phrase behaves like an 8-bar phrase but is actually 8.5 bars, which creates a minor rhythmic dissonance which could be expanded upon but as it stands only serves to confuse momentarily. There are many different ways to solve this problem. You should bear in mind that it is not interesting to have the melody and rhythm always doing the same thing. It is strong for the melody to come to a close on a strong beat, but that does not mean that this is how you should end all phrases. It makes the moment when the piece finally does end so much stronger if you take care to make the other ends weaker in comparison. There are all sorts of tricks to accomplishing this, some classics being varying between ending on the weak or strong beat, ending on a strong beat but beginning a new phrase in the same breath (which is structurally dissonant and therefore interesting), using chord inversions, ending on the dominant or a tonic substitute, postponing the ending with suspensions or appoggiaturas. Literally, you name it - and these are all things which have been studied and are now well understood.

Phrase 2: (E E) (F F) (C F) (F C) (A-flat G) (G F) (C F) (A-flat C) (B-flat F)

This phrase begins similarly to how the last one ended but then the pattern is completely abandoned and a general pattern of descent returns, until bar 15 where you reverse it for two bars. This phrase is also of very unusual length. Do you want to know what I find most obvious (which is not necessarily the best solution)? You should erase bar 4 because a resolution at that point is not interesting and makes the tension created by the chromaticism pointless. Instead, you should go directly to bar 5 and then erase the repeat mark and place it after bar 10 (now bar 9). Also, change the direction of the melody in bar 7 (now bar 6 - A flat G F G) to match the previous two bars, and rewrite bar 10 (now bar 9) so that it is only one quarter note F so that the phrase repeats naturally. What you have now is a relatively strong 9 bar phrase with three slightly different ideas, and a different final bar to mark the end (you could also alter it without significantly changing the material so that it fits into an 8 bar structure). It is balanced and has a logical structure, and is also somewhat exciting because the points of highest and lowest tension are located in structurally significant places. This is just an example to show you that your phrase structure is deeply flawed and goes contrary to the spirit of the music. My comments are not suppoed to be a prescription for "how to make the piece better" - I did not compose it and am therefore not invested in the piece, so my suggestions should not be confused with actual composition. I hope you forgive me but this is extremely tiring - you should go through the rest of the piece by yourself as an exercise.

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

4. Can you give examples of "meaningful dialog between the form and the material", and "between the instrument and material"?

Oh man, I could name hundreds of great examples had I nothing else to do - unfortunately life isn't so generous. Anyway, it basically has to do with projecting the formal elements onto material in order to create meanings and stir emotions. Here is one particularly subtle example (1:37):

 

This has a very simple but nuanced structure. It basically just consists of sequences of tonic-subdominant-dominant progressions. It looks something like this: (T)-(S-D-T)-(SD-D-T)-(SD-SD-D)-(T) - but only very roughly, don't take it too seriously. Anyway, a few times Bach uses major seventh chords in third inversion which he takes care to approach rather weakly (not via dominant seventh chords) to make it absolutely clear that they have a subdominant function. But, at the climactic moment (1:36), he does something different. Now instead of going from the tonic chord to a subdominant, he goes straight to a dominant chord on the same root (with a seventh), and resolves to a major seventh chord in root position by letting the leading tone live on in the highest voice. This signals to the listener that the chord does in fact have a tonic function even though it has a major seventh dissonance - a very unexpected and thrilling effect. The significance of this major seventh chord is much more than just being a nice chord - and Bach did not place it there just because he thought it sounded cool - its placement is calculated very precisely and the whole form is architectured to accommodate it. If you think very deeply about how music is organized with regard to tension, dissonance in a very large sense, you are in a better position to craft exciting music. I'll give you an example of dialog between instrument and form/material by addressing your next question.

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

Brahms I believe wrote his Clarinet Sonatas Op. 120 for Clarinet or Viola. So that would imply that ideas don't have to be drastically adapted to the instrument (as you seem to demand) and can be above specific instruments. And for me, music is above any specific instrument. It is music first and only later music for a specific instrument, a musical idea first and only later an idea for a specific instrument. If it has to adapt, it has to adapt only in terms of the specific timbre and range of the instrument, and its idiom, to make use of those as the instrument's strengths and limitations.

It is a fair point. I would say that the specific case of the Brahms sonatas is best explained by the fact that it is written with both instruments in mind and therefore he is careful to exclude things which are too idiomatic for either instrument. You usually do not need to wallow in concerns of instrumentation and consider every note very carefully - instruments are designed in a way that usual things are comfortable - this includes most arpeggios and scales and basic leaps. However, consider also the vast dynamic capabilities of the clarinet, which are almost equalled by the viola as a string instrument. Had he written it for the clarinet or horn, for example, he would quickly run into problems with his dynamics being impossible to observe, so it is not as if these two instruments being considered "interchangeable" is proof that ideas are fully above instruments. I don't wish to be mean, but your last sentence is a little bit absurd. What you listed is not in any way "only", in fact if I'm not mistaken, it is a complete list of things an idea is capable of adapting to with regard to instruments.

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

5. How is my composition process supposed to "adapt philosophically to the different instruments" that I choose?

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

But that is not always the case and doesn't have to be the case (as long as the piece is playable on the instrument for which it is written).

You underestimate the psychological aspect of written music. The instrumentalist is not merely a vessel for the music, in some sense they are the music. It is in the composer's best interest to write music which is interesting to play and is not unnecessarily difficult. It is a source of great frustration for any musician to be asked to play something simple which is counter-intuitive and goes against the nature of the instrument. This is however something which can be stretched really thin if you have strong compositional reasons. Consider the Berio sequenzas - they are as difficult as virtuoso pieces come and yet nobody complains about them because they really allow the instrument to shine brilliantly. The same is true of the music of Brian Ferneyhough. He can be criticized for writing music which approaches impossibility, but the musicians who have the patience to learn a piece of his love it. He is a sensitive musician and is an expert on the playing technique of most instruments, and is aware that some of the things he writes are very unfriendly and only asks that the musician tries to approximate it as best they can (the effect is quite spectacular). This philosophical view of virtuosity as a metaphor if you will is something which is common in solo writing, especially the composers I mentioned and the Romantic virtuoso composers like Liszt and Paganini. Only fools believe that these masters wrote difficult pieces to show off their technical prowess. There are certainly shallow pieces by both composers, but there are also masterpieces like Liszt's B minor sonata and Paganini's set of caprices. You must understand however that when Paganini writes something like this:

 

… that he knows exactly what he is doing. This is extremely difficult, as is perfectly evidenced by hearing somebody (attempt) to play it. But it is not because the idea comes first and must not be polluted, nor that he is simply unaware that this is difficult violin writing (obviously not). He realized that this kind of music is in a completely different context when played by a violin vs. a piano - and part of the reason why it is so effective, besides being well composed, is that it is poetic. But, above all, he takes great care that the violinist is not battling with his own fingers more than he needs to. He could have written this in A-flat minor, for example (theoretically) - I would say that this is the most primitive way that the instrument is in dialog with the material, but it is certainly an important point. The reason why he can get so close to writing unplayable music is because he has a very good understanding of what is completely impossible or too impractical to be worth writing - this is not something that is guaranteed by believing in the sanctity of the idea above all practical concerns. By the way, had Brahms written his sonatas in a virtuoso style, the possibility of playing it on both instrument would quickly vanish.

On 23/06/2016 at 3:49 PM, luderart said:

What I am more interested in as constructive criticism is objective facts rather than feelings.

Okay. I play a little viola so I can give you a few impressions of the notes from the perspective of how well the music is written for the instrument.

1) Flat signatures are really uncomfortable, but if you need to have flats the fewer the better (and you should also use fixed accidentals if it is almost completely diatonic like this - it is very weird to read music in a minor key and not see an alteration for the leading tone for example). The whole piece would be better off in G minor or even A minor because it does not really modulate. This is not hugely important, sometimes in classical music the key signature is considered to be more important than the practicality, but in this case there doesn't seem to be a strong reason for it to be in F minor. It's just a subtle point that makes the player a little happier - and it also makes some things a whole lot simpler in this particular piece.

2) The kind of two-voice writing found in bar 29 is uncomfortable at that speed because the hand position has to completely change for each double stop, which makes for a disjointed and probably poorly in tune result (but I mean, you can rehearse anything). By moving the upper voice down an octave it not only becomes comfortable but you also get a nice fifth on the open strings (instead of a stopped fourth - perhaps that is what you wanted but I doubt it). It isn't necessarily bad, I just get the feeling that it isn't 100% important that the notes be in exactly that relationship and therefore there is no reason not to have it simpler.

3) The fourths in bar 37 are very uncomfortable but I think they are defensible if you consider them essential. The augmented and perfect fourths in bar 40 are okay if a little awkward, but bar 41 is hideous. It requires some gymnastics to pull off and will be imperfect no matter who is playing and I do not see any clear reason for that to be necessary - It is just poorly written, period. It is important when writing double stops for strings to either have a strong intuitive understanding of the fingerings or to pay close attention not to write fast double stops which require you to suddenly change position or hand position unless you are aware of what you are doing. The player will know if you spent time considering these practical details and will judge you, trust me. It will also be clear whether you chose to write difficult and uncomfortable music because you did not want to compromise or whether you didn't know what you were doing.

I hope my response was coherent and provided some elaboration - I really do have respect for your passion and wish you only the best.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/25/2016 at 10:04 AM, Gylfi said:

As the saying goes: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing". I am of the opinion that the only way knowledge can work against you is if you do not understand what you are learning. The reason you study technique - which is very frustrating and sometimes even boring - is not to know how to consistently apply trite devices but rather to learn by experience the particular consequences of certain decisions. If you do this enough you get to the point where you can solve problems that don't seem to have a direct precedence because you develop a sensitivity which makes it possible for you to understand them on a deep level. Inspiration is a very great illusion - that is not to say that it is not possible to be inspired nor that it is undesirable (I would agree that music without inspiration is worthless). Emotion is something that occurs within your own body and which is only fully perceived by you. The expression of emotion, through verbal language and body language, is something which is learned and must be practiced to become natural. In fact, you could argue that the only true forms of external emotion are the primitive expressions of pain and joy, etc. That doesn't make more nuanced forms of expression less valid, just more abstract. Consider how this applies to an instrumentalist. It is sometimes said that the most important quality in an instrumentalist is emotional investment and spontaneity of expression. Perhaps - but one must not forget that all instruments, even the voice, are inherently counter-intuitive. In order to be "spontaneous", you have to make split second decisions between sets of very complicated interrelated procedures which cannot be performed unless they have been drilled into the muscle memory. Playing spiccato is not as simple as just wanting to play something spiccato. It is true that instrumentalists have to deal with real-time execution whereas composers theoretically have an infinite amount of time. But what of improvisers, who have to make split-second decisions of the nature found in composition? There are some improvisers who "play from the heart" and do not wish for their creativity to be dictated by formulas. Their creativity is in fact usually polluted by formulas of a less sophisticated kind which their brain has internalized to the point where they can use them without expending conscious thought. What they don't realize is that this is exactly what "formula" musicians do too, only they have a much wider bank available to them and thus have more nuance of expression. It should be obvious how this applies to our discussion of composition. You master the use of basic tools which makes it possible for you to craft complicated structures with ease. You still have the same brain as you did before you started studying the techniques; you will only lose touch with your creativity if you allow yourself to be dictated by the technique and not vice versa.

Hey, I am completely sympathetic and am sorry I wasn't more specific to begin with - I will gladly follow up on all of my points.

This is something I am studying at the moment because to be honest I have a very primitive understanding of rhythmic organization. So while I cannot offer specific technical advice which I swear by, I can at least tell you as a keen observer of rhythm that verbatim repetition is something that is best used with great caution. I suggest studying rhythmical transformations by the masters and working your way from there. In order to create coherency it is generally recommended to use a limited number of truly independent rhythmic structures and creating large structures solely by varying these directly.

I'll point out the things which I find could be better realized:

1) Look at the melodic outline of your phrases:

Phrase 1: (C) (D-flat C) (D-flat C) (D-flat C) (G F) (E-flat D-flat) (C B-flat) (G G) (F F).

Here you have a pattern of descending steps on the beat which is broken at the very end before the cadence. Not a bad idea, considering that you also reverse the melodic direction at this moment, but the effect is ruined by repeating it immediately in the resolution, therefore undermining the tension by releasing it only very weakly. It deserves mention that the entire phrase behaves like an 8-bar phrase but is actually 8.5 bars, which creates a minor rhythmic dissonance which could be expanded upon but as it stands only serves to confuse momentarily. There are many different ways to solve this problem. You should bear in mind that it is not interesting to have the melody and rhythm always doing the same thing. It is strong for the melody to come to a close on a strong beat, but that does not mean that this is how you should end all phrases. It makes the moment when the piece finally does end so much stronger if you take care to make the other ends weaker in comparison. There are all sorts of tricks to accomplishing this, some classics being varying between ending on the weak or strong beat, ending on a strong beat but beginning a new phrase in the same breath (which is structurally dissonant and therefore interesting), using chord inversions, ending on the dominant or a tonic substitute, postponing the ending with suspensions or appoggiaturas. Literally, you name it - and these are all things which have been studied and are now well understood.

Phrase 2: (E E) (F F) (C F) (F C) (A-flat G) (G F) (C F) (A-flat C) (B-flat F)

This phrase begins similarly to how the last one ended but then the pattern is completely abandoned and a general pattern of descent returns, until bar 15 where you reverse it for two bars. This phrase is also of very unusual length. Do you want to know what I find most obvious (which is not necessarily the best solution)? You should erase bar 4 because a resolution at that point is not interesting and makes the tension created by the chromaticism pointless. Instead, you should go directly to bar 5 and then erase the repeat mark and place it after bar 10 (now bar 9). Also, change the direction of the melody in bar 7 (now bar 6 - A flat G F G) to match the previous two bars, and rewrite bar 10 (now bar 9) so that it is only one quarter note F so that the phrase repeats naturally. What you have now is a relatively strong 9 bar phrase with three slightly different ideas, and a different final bar to mark the end (you could also alter it without significantly changing the material so that it fits into an 8 bar structure). It is balanced and has a logical structure, and is also somewhat exciting because the points of highest and lowest tension are located in structurally significant places. This is just an example to show you that your phrase structure is deeply flawed and goes contrary to the spirit of the music. My comments are not suppoed to be a prescription for "how to make the piece better" - I did not compose it and am therefore not invested in the piece, so my suggestions should not be confused with actual composition. I hope you forgive me but this is extremely tiring - you should go through the rest of the piece by yourself as an exercise.

Oh man, I could name hundreds of great examples had I nothing else to do - unfortunately life isn't so generous. Anyway, it basically has to do with projecting the formal elements onto material in order to create meanings and stir emotions. Here is one particularly subtle example (1:37):

This has a very simple but nuanced structure. It basically just consists of sequences of tonic-subdominant-dominant progressions. It looks something like this: (T)-(S-D-T)-(SD-D-T)-(SD-SD-D)-(T) - but only very roughly, don't take it too seriously. Anyway, a few times Bach uses major seventh chords in third inversion which he takes care to approach rather weakly (not via dominant seventh chords) to make it absolutely clear that they have a subdominant function. But, at the climactic moment (1:36), he does something different. Now instead of going from the tonic chord to a subdominant, he goes straight to a dominant chord on the same root (with a seventh), and resolves to a major seventh chord in root position by letting the leading tone live on in the highest voice. This signals to the listener that the chord does in fact have a tonic function even though it has a major seventh dissonance - a very unexpected and thrilling effect. The significance of this major seventh chord is much more than just being a nice chord - and Bach did not place it there just because he thought it sounded cool - its placement is calculated very precisely and the whole form is architectured to accommodate it. If you think very deeply about how music is organized with regard to tension, dissonance in a very large sense, you are in a better position to craft exciting music. I'll give you an example of dialog between instrument and form/material by addressing your next question.

It is a fair point. I would say that the specific case of the Brahms sonatas is best explained by the fact that it is written with both instruments in mind and therefore he is careful to exclude things which are too idiomatic for either instrument. You usually do not need to wallow in concerns of instrumentation and consider every note very carefully - instruments are designed in a way that usual things are comfortable - this includes most arpeggios and scales and basic leaps. However, consider also the vast dynamic capabilities of the clarinet, which are almost equalled by the viola as a string instrument. Had he written it for the clarinet or horn, for example, he would quickly run into problems with his dynamics being impossible to observe, so it is not as if these two instruments being considered "interchangeable" is proof that ideas are fully above instruments. I don't wish to be mean, but your last sentence is a little bit absurd. What you listed is not in any way "only", in fact if I'm not mistaken, it is a complete list of things an idea is capable of adapting to with regard to instruments.

You underestimate the psychological aspect of written music. The instrumentalist is not merely a vessel for the music, in some sense they are the music. It is in the composer's best interest to write music which is interesting to play and is not unnecessarily difficult. It is a source of great frustration for any musician to be asked to play something simple which is counter-intuitive and goes against the nature of the instrument. This is however something which can be stretched really thin if you have strong compositional reasons. Consider the Berio sequenzas - they are as difficult as virtuoso pieces come and yet nobody complains about them because they really allow the instrument to shine brilliantly. The same is true of the music of Brian Ferneyhough. He can be criticized for writing music which approaches impossibility, but the musicians who have the patience to learn a piece of his love it. He is a sensitive musician and is an expert on the playing technique of most instruments, and is aware that some of the things he writes are very unfriendly and only asks that the musician tries to approximate it as best they can (the effect is quite spectacular). This philosophical view of virtuosity as a metaphor if you will is something which is common in solo writing, especially the composers I mentioned and the Romantic virtuoso composers like Liszt and Paganini. Only fools believe that these masters wrote difficult pieces to show off their technical prowess. There are certainly shallow pieces by both composers, but there are also masterpieces like Liszt's B minor sonata and Paganini's set of caprices. You must understand however that when Paganini writes something like this:

… that he knows exactly what he is doing. This is extremely difficult, as is perfectly evidenced by hearing somebody (attempt) to play it. But it is not because the idea comes first and must not be polluted, nor that he is simply unaware that this is difficult violin writing (obviously not). He realized that this kind of music is in a completely different context when played by a violin vs. a piano - and part of the reason why it is so effective, besides being well composed, is that it is poetic. But, above all, he takes great care that the violinist is not battling with his own fingers more than he needs to. He could have written this in A-flat minor, for example (theoretically) - I would say that this is the most primitive way that the instrument is in dialog with the material, but it is certainly an important point. The reason why he can get so close to writing unplayable music is because he has a very good understanding of what is completely impossible or too impractical to be worth writing - this is not something that is guaranteed by believing in the sanctity of the idea above all practical concerns. By the way, had Brahms written his sonatas in a virtuoso style, the possibility of playing it on both instrument would quickly vanish.

Okay. I play a little viola so I can give you a few impressions of the notes from the perspective of how well the music is written for the instrument.

1) Flat signatures are really uncomfortable, but if you need to have flats the fewer the better (and you should also use fixed accidentals if it is almost completely diatonic like this - it is very weird to read music in a minor key and not see an alteration for the leading tone for example). The whole piece would be better off in G minor or even A minor because it does not really modulate. This is not hugely important, sometimes in classical music the key signature is considered to be more important than the practicality, but in this case there doesn't seem to be a strong reason for it to be in F minor. It's just a subtle point that makes the player a little happier - and it also makes some things a whole lot simpler in this particular piece.

2) The kind of two-voice writing found in bar 29 is uncomfortable at that speed because the hand position has to completely change for each double stop, which makes for a disjointed and probably poorly in tune result (but I mean, you can rehearse anything). By moving the upper voice down an octave it not only becomes comfortable but you also get a nice fifth on the open strings (instead of a stopped fourth - perhaps that is what you wanted but I doubt it). It isn't necessarily bad, I just get the feeling that it isn't 100% important that the notes be in exactly that relationship and therefore there is no reason not to have it simpler.

3) The fourths in bar 37 are very uncomfortable but I think they are defensible if you consider them essential. The augmented and perfect fourths in bar 40 are okay if a little awkward, but bar 41 is hideous. It requires some gymnastics to pull off and will be imperfect no matter who is playing and I do not see any clear reason for that to be necessary - It is just poorly written, period. It is important when writing double stops for strings to either have a strong intuitive understanding of the fingerings or to pay close attention not to write fast double stops which require you to suddenly change position or hand position unless you are aware of what you are doing. The player will know if you spent time considering these practical details and will judge you, trust me. It will also be clear whether you chose to write difficult and uncomfortable music because you did not want to compromise or whether you didn't know what you were doing.

I hope my response was coherent and provided some elaboration - I really do have respect for your passion and wish you only the best.

 

Thanks Gylfi for your elaboration and for the time you took to go into what you meant in such great detail. I especially value your input as a viola player. I might not have taken the performer into adequate consideration in the bars that you mentioned, especially bar 41. I play a little violoncello and mentally imagine the fingerings to make sure they are not impossible to execute. So I can be pretty sure that whatever I compose for strings is possible to play. You might be right that as triplets (i.e. fast), the double stops in bar 41 are very difficult to execute. Yet, I think that virtuoso violists should be able to handle them. Even then, haven't you heard the quotation of Beethoven in response to the violinist Schuppanzigh's complaint about the difficulty of his part in one of Beethoven's quartets: "Do you think I worry about your lousy fiddle when the spirit moves me?" The same is the case with me when I am composing. Thinking about the performer and their instrument becomes secondary. What my inspiration and my ear dictate become paramount. You might say that Beethoven as a great composer is more entitled to take such liberties. You are right. However, in my case, the piece was not intended for anyone and will probably never be performed. So, I can be said to enjoy greater liberty and I might as well use it! That wouldn't be the case if I were to be collaborating with a performer on a commission or if I dedicated the piece to someone.

The question of whether composition is a vehicle for the performer to demonstrate their talent or ability, or whether performance is a service to the composition is I believe an important one. Both might be true to an extent. However, as far as I am concerned, the latter is the ultimate case. Performance is a service to compositions. And ultimately, the composer should not compromise on their inspiration thinking of the performer and their comfort. Some performers ask the composer to change certain passages to make them more "playable". As you know the great composers often refuse to do so. I have changed passages in response to a performer for whom I had intended pieces, but I did so as a high price to pay for getting my pieces performed at a concert. And I never changed only the passage in question but always the phrase. So if I were to change bar 41, I might have to change other bars before and after it. But I won't even think about it unless someone is asking me to do it as a condition for performing it. And I will keep the original version in case a future performer can handle it as it was originally written.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, luderart said:

You might be right that as triplets (i.e. fast), the double stops in bar 41 are very difficult to execute. Yet, I think that virtuoso violists should be able to handle them.

No doubt. If you spend some time with them you can rehearse them to the point where you can play them reasonably smoothly and with ease. However, you seem to have missed my point. It is not that what you wrote is in any way illegal or is so difficult as to be unplayable, but that it is disproportionally difficult compared to the musical effect. It is a modest idea and the difficulty spike seems absurd with regard to what is happening in the music. Tell me, is adjusting the music in a non-essential way so that it lies better and gives the instrumentalist a greater chance of expressing the underlying form really such a large compromise? It is so wasteful to refuse to optimize even if you have virtuosos at your disposal (which most people do not). A similar thing occurs in programming - people know that they have an exorbitant amount of resources at their disposal and adopt dubious practices because they can get away with it. I think it is bad artistry - and you bet that people respect for example video games with solid engines that you can max out on modest hardware without a hitch. That's a sign of quality - and it comes at no expense to the precious artistic vision of the developers.

6 hours ago, luderart said:

Even then, haven't you heard the quotation of Beethoven in response to the violinist Schuppanzigh's complaint about the difficulty of his part in one of Beethoven's quartets: "Do you think I worry about your lousy fiddle when the spirit moves me?"

6 hours ago, luderart said:

You might say that Beethoven as a great composer is more entitled to take such liberties. You are right. However, in my case, the piece was not intended for anyone and will probably never be performed. So, I can be said to enjoy greater liberty and I might as well use it! That wouldn't be the case if I were to be collaborating with a performer on a commission or if I dedicated the piece to someone.

Beethoven is crazy, almost as crazy as the music he writes. He paints broad strokes and seems to ignore the canvas completely (was there even a canvas to begin with?) - in this sense he is similar to Béla Bartók. His string quartets are hideously difficult. I do not know any music which is as vehemently uncompromising, at times dissolving into almost complete barbarism. This is the spirit of the music, and it is hard to argue that he should exercise more civility when writing for strings - it seems almost a paradox to suggest so. Your music is not that crazy, in fact it is quite modest and well-mannered. In any case, both composers were reasonably aware of what they were doing, and you do not find many examples of such needless difficulty. When something is difficult, it is because there is really a lot of urgency or because it is to achieve an effect which cannot be achieved otherwise.

I do not understand your reasoning that because you do not hope for the piece to be performed that you can allow yourself more liberties. Strictly speaking, it isn't music until it is heard in performance - just imagine if you didn't have Sibelius playback. The concept of "writing for an instrument" without writing for it is puzzling to me.

6 hours ago, luderart said:

The question of whether composition is a vehicle for the performer to demonstrate their talent or ability, or whether performance is a service to the composition is I believe an important one. Both might be true to an extent. However, as far as I am concerned, the latter is the ultimate case. Performance is a service to compositions. And ultimately, the composer should not compromise on their inspiration thinking of the performer and their comfort. 

That is a valid position to take if you believe in it. Personally I choose to look at it as a collaboration. I like to write music and I like to play music. I like to play difficult music, but I don't like to play music which is difficult solely because it is ignorantly written. Part of being a professional is being able to be on your A-game even when you are handed awkward music, but as I am not a professional performer I do not have to deal with that and greatly appreciate when things are cleverly written. My experience singing in choirs and playing in orchestras has led me to realize how important the psychological aspect of written music is. There are certain pieces where I can reach up to a chest G4 (sounding) with relative ease, like Rachmaninov's Bogoroditse Devo (but I have only once been brave enough to go all the way) from the Vespers and then there are others where I struggle with B3 (the difference is purely psychological, when testing my range on the piano I have reached up to B5 in full blast). It is symptomatic of me not believing in the music and not feeling it believes in me, if that makes sense. The Rachmaninov piece, although it is only an example, is special because it is written so comfortably for the voices. More important than being comfortable, all of the parts are interesting to sing and I really feel as if the composer is welcoming me to sing the music. This is something I consider very important, and it makes the performance instantly better. I especially love to sing music by the old Renaissance masters - it gets to be quite tricky but you always consider it an exciting obstacle to overcome - at least I do, they were real pros.

Don't misunderstand me, I have nothing against difficult music nor do I advocate unreasonable compromises. I would say that my music is generally speaking difficult and I have a few embarrassing experiences to confirm that. I have also written my fair share of absurdities due to misinformation and am in no way perfect. Anyway, I think the composer is responsible for their performer's emotional and physical state while learning and performing their piece. It is not a responsibility to take lightly - they aren't machines.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...