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J. Lee Graham

Birthday Gala - Waltz for Orchestra

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Birthday Gala – Waltz for Orchestra

Scoring:  2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets in B-flat, 2 Bassoons, 3 Horns in F, 2 Trumpets in C, 3 Trombones, 2 Percussion Players (Cymbals, Triangle, Snare Drum, Bass Drum, Glockenspiel), Timpani, Harp, and Strings.

Style:  Late-Romantic, ca. 1880-1900. 

Composed:  November 10 – December 1, 2017 at Austin, Texas.

A little something different from my usual Classical-style fare!  

As its title might suggest, this work – my second waltz for full orchestra – was composed as a (somewhat belated) birthday gift to my husband Max.  I began writing it on his birthday and completed it exactly three weeks later – a rather quick turnaround for more than nine minutes of music for full orchestra, but I was inspired!  It’s marvelous what love can move us to accomplish.   

Like most Viennese waltzes, the piece begins with an introduction, starting with a glittering fanfare interspersed with rushing scales in the violins, and followed closely by a zany, almost Disneyesque section evoking fun and celebration.  The fanfare returns once more in the brass, modulating to A-flat from the tonic C major and slowing down.  A languid “love theme” follows (this was written for my husband, after all), eventually modulating back to the tonic.  After a frenetic connecting section building excitement, the waltz itself begins in earnest.  After the main themes reprise at the end of the waltz, a faster coda dramatically concludes the piece.    

It should come as no surprise that Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), the Waltz King, was a significant influence in writing this piece; but perhaps a more important model, and one from whom I learnt quite a few handy tricks of the trade, was the later composer Franz Lehár (1870-1948) – famous for his operettas, but who also wrote some very nice waltzes full of interesting orchestral colours, different from Strauss.  While my models were Viennese, and the pattern of the piece is Viennese (Introduction – Waltz – Coda), some of the melodies have taken on a flavour more reminiscent of American popular music from around the turn of the last century, giving the work a somewhat American feeling overall.  I have never before made such extensive use of brass, harp, and percussion in any of my work, and learning as I went how best to employ forces relatively new to me was quite an adventure.

I really must apologize for the score – it’s a wretched mess, I know.  I wrote this piece very quickly in short score, with multiple instruments on each staff, and the glockenspiel line slipped in below the strings as an afterthought.  My primary interest was in playback, not readability.  Add to that a few bizarre glitches Finale inserted that I can’t delete, and the wreck is irreparable.  Eventually, I’m going to have to redo the entire score, but that’s a task for another day.  Apologies again, and I hope you’re able to figure out what I was doing.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Max was thrilled with his gift, I’m pleased to say!  He’s always supportive of my efforts, and with his fine ear and keen sensibilities, he often gives me excellent advice on how my music might be improved.  In that, along with everything else in my perfect marriage, I am indeed the most fortunate of men. 

Happy listening, and I hope you enjoy this lighthearted celebration in sound.   

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Wow, this was really well written and a pleasure to listen to. It kept my attention ths whole nine minutes with elegant orchestration and smooth modulations. I especially liked how your glockenspiel, harp and woodwinds worked together to create delightful flourishes and embellishments. 

If I had any suggestions, it might be to move the melodic line around a little more -- I wasn't really keeping track, but it felt like a lot of violin with some woodwind doubling; a few more sections featuring the cellos or horns could add some nice contrast in a lower register.

There were a few places where the time signatures were doing weird things. On page 10, the rhythm switches to 3/4 with no change in notation at m. 42. The time signature finally changes on pg. 12, m. 57. The same situation happens on pgs. 40 and 41. It may be that I am misunderstanding something about the use of common time in waltzes -- those spots on pgs. 12 and 41 just threw me off. 

I'm also kind of astounded that your music program has the option to play back the waltz with the traditionally stilted Viennese rhythm. It added a really nice authentic vibe to the playback.

One final question: is it usual to have such an extended section in 4/4 time to start off a Viennese waltz? 

Really great work; thanks for sharing!

Edited by Noah Brode
Removed redundancy
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@Noah Brode  Thanks for listening and commenting, Noah!  I really appreciate it!  

On 2/2/2019 at 9:13 AM, Noah Brode said:

It kept my attention ths whole nine minutes with elegant orchestration and smooth modulations.

I'm very glad to hear this.  Holding attention with this kind of material is a challenge, and smooth modulations can be tricky, but I think I was able to pull some good ones off.  My favourite is the one from C to E-flat near the beginning.    

On 2/2/2019 at 9:13 AM, Noah Brode said:

I especially liked how your glockenspiel, harp and woodwinds worked together to create delightful flourishes and embellishments. 

I'm so glad you enjoyed all that fluff I threw in!  I had fun with that, and learnt a lot.  I had never written for glockenspiel before, and it was an interesting experience.  I tried hard to make this piece sound as fun and festive as possible.    

On 2/2/2019 at 9:13 AM, Noah Brode said:

If I had any suggestions, it might be to move the melodic line around a little more -- I wasn't really keeping track, but it felt like a lot of violin with some woodwind doubling; a few more sections featuring the cellos or horns could add some nice contrast in a lower register.

I think you're right, I could have done more of this.  Viennese-style waltzes do indeed tend to be somewhat violin-centric affairs; but the masters in this style do toss the tune around more than perhaps I did.  I used the 'cello a lot in this, actually, but for some reason, no matter how high I put the volume on them, the 'cellos never really come through.  Neither do the double basses, and they really should, because traditionally the bass line is in the double bass throughout, and it needs to be strong.  Something I'll need to work on with my software.

On 2/2/2019 at 9:13 AM, Noah Brode said:

There were a few places where the time signatures were doing weird things. On page 10, the rhythm switches to 3/4 with no change in notation at m. 42. The time signature finally changes on pg. 12, m. 57. The same situation happens on pgs. 40 and 41. It may be that I am misunderstanding something about the use of common time in waltzes -- those spots on pgs. 12 and 41 just threw me off. 

I believe those places are where Finale threw in an error and screwed me over...I mentioned it in my opening comments.  I can't seem to delete these aberrant time signatures, so I'll probably have to redo the entire score (I probably should anyway).  I'm sorry they were confusing.

On 2/2/2019 at 9:13 AM, Noah Brode said:

I'm also kind of astounded that your music program has the option to play back the waltz with the traditionally stilted Viennese rhythm. It added a really nice authentic vibe to the playback.

Yes, Finale has its challenges and it's not perfect, but a few of the things it does well, it does very well indeed, and "human playback" is one of those things I've been very happy with more often than not.  The "Viennese Waltz" setting is particularly effective.  

On 2/2/2019 at 9:13 AM, Noah Brode said:

One final question: is it usual to have such an extended section in 4/4 time to start off a Viennese waltz? 

Let's say that it's not without precedent.  A very famous example of one with an extended introduction in duple metre (cut time) is Johann Strauss II's "Kaiser-Waltzer" (Emperor Waltz) Op. 437 (1889), which opens with a slow march.  Similarly, Franz Lehár's "Gold und Silber" (Gold and Silver), Op. 79 (1902) begins with a short march section in common time.  It was these examples that gave me to believe that I could get away with one myself. 

Not all Viennese waltzes begin with an introduction, but many do; I believe they served as time intervals during which dancers could catch their breath, check their dance cards to see who had the next dance with them, and so forth. 

Again, I really appreciate you listening and commenting to such extent.  I had begun to make peace with the idea that nobody would, which makes your review an especially pleasant surprise.  Thanks again!     

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