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The Extreme Smallness of Insects


pateceramics
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 I love this text from Pliny the Elder's "Natural History," and I think it suits itself particularly well to text painting as a choral piece.  I'd love any feedback, but particularly if you notice problems with my use of the latin (I never studied latin), or can think of any changes I should make to the piano reduction (I'm not a pianist.)  Thanks!

sed turrigeros elephantiorum miramur umeros taurorumque colla et truces in sublime iactus, tigrium rapinas, leonum iubas, cum rerum natura nusquam magis quam in minimis tota sit. ...cum in contemplatione naturae nihil possit videri supervacuum.

We marvel at the shoulders of elephants carrying turrets, and bulls tossing aside whatever stands in their way with their strong necks, at the ravening of tigers, at lions' manes, but Nature is nowhere greater than in her smallest works… in the study of the natural world, nothing is superfluous.  

Here is a youtube of the music with the score rolling by.  You may need headphones to hear the bass part clearly because of the midi sound quality.  Sorry about that.  

 
 

 

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It sounds very pleasant and pastoral to me. I can't really help with Latin or piano parts, much less the specifics of choral writing, but I think some more extended chords (with divisi, I suppose?) could add a bit of flair. I appreciated the entrance of the E diminished chord toward the end. The choice of text was great!

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Thanks, Noah!  I was trying to keep divisi to a minimum for this piece, so that's out unfortunately.  I've been aiming for a low difficulty level with my pieces lately.  Not that this is appropriate for beginning middle school choir, or anything, but there are so many solid musical groups that are made up of volunteers, and don't have a lot of members, (and then someone has laryngitis and someone else has to leave town for a funeral). So I've been concentrating on writing things that can be pulled off successfully with the group you have, rather than the professional group of your dreams.  No big orchestra, not a lot of parts, easy ranges in case you need an alto to sing tenor, etc.  Maybe the next one will have a bit bigger budget!  :D  Glad you liked my chord changes at the end!  It's a shift into harmonic major, so half the major scale and half the minor scale.  To my ear, it feels like it adds a sense of mystery.  

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  • 2 months later...

I love using ancient texts in my own music -so this piece catches my interest there immediately. Overall, I think you got an awesome idea here. My only concern is there's no contrast. The counterpoint -which is a hallmark of any choral writing (no matter the aesthetic)- is all but absent! It's extremely homophonic and doesn't seem to engender any sense of awe. I would recommend revisiting this and mix things up a bit. Use the text as a guide. Paint it out in sound. You got the material. If you're unsure of how to best utilize contrapuntal technique, take a look at some of the guides from the older forum posts -we delved into this kind of topic many times over the years. Hope I don't come off to critical, but I really like the premise of this!!!

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Did the embedded MP3 player do the glitch thing where it loops back to the beginning halfway through the piece?  Because there's actually quite a bit of counterpoint in here, specifically for purposes of contrast with the first section, which is homophonic and sort of a choral fanfare introduction, because we're text painting about the magnificence of elephants and tigers...

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Perhaps I should have been more clearer. Yes, you do have counterpoint. What I meant, however, is more intricate counterpoint. Paint the words, use a broader harmonic sound to bring out the inherent meaning of the text. 

For example, don't read the lyrics, but listen to the music... does any of what you have here bring this passage to light musically:

" and bulls tossing aside whatever stands in their way with their strong necks, at the ravening of tigers, at lions' manes"

I don't hear it. Here's why:

Bulls tossing things aside isn't light by any means -watch some of the tossing done during the running of the bulls ceremonies. These are big beasts that have killed people with one head turn. And 'ravening tigers'.... ravenous isn't a light nature word. Nor is the description of them in Pliny's texts. These are both animals that easily inflict harm. 

Painting these terms musically, within the harmonic constraints you have set in this piece, is going to be difficult. However, chromaticism here can be a great friend of yours. It doesn't -and shouldn't- be a neat awe that your trying to inspire. These beasts generate human awe through the fearful ways they can hurt us. Let the music reveal that humanistic awe that we have. It's for this very reason that many composers before haven't depicted bears with muted, pizzicato strings!

To bring this full circle with counterpoint. Perhaps, you could use chromatic passing tones in the tenor and bass to reflect the bulls tossing things aside? Or... you could alter the rhythmic nature of the setting to reflect the ravenous nature of tigers. Shredding the comfortable rhythm you set up and transforming it into a maimed victim? Just some ideas on how I would approach the text. Bring the chromatic tossing of the bulls and the shredding of the tigers back together to show the uniform nature of the wild lion's mane, for instance. Now that would be an awesome word painting. Your thoughts?

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2 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

Or... you could alter the rhythmic nature of the setting to reflect the ravenous nature of tigers. Shredding the comfortable rhythm you set up and transforming it into a maimed victim?

 You didn't like my crunch chord on "rapinas" at measure 21?  Where the rhythm suddenly pounces?  

But it sounds like you should set this text!  Inspiration has struck!

2 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

 

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Heh. Not looking at what I can do with it. I was just offering some constructive criticism -as that is what you had asked for. To each his own. Music is a subjective field of study. We all have our own opinions of how things should transpire or what moods should be invoked musically. 

I just hope you didn't find my review negatively!! That wasn't the intent. :s

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No, no!  I was being serious!  It's a fun text and it sounded like you had some ideas to explore.  Stick it in your rainy day project file.  Sorry, the Internet, once again, fails to adequately express tone.  

We're all here to debate musical ideas, which doesn't end up being much of a debate if we just sit around in agreement.  You didn't hurt my feelings, I was whacking the ball back over the net.  :D

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