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J. Lee Graham

Sextet in E-flat for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and 2 Violoncelli

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Sextet in E-flat for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and 2 Violoncelli

1.  Allegro (Sonata Form)

2.  Andante teneramente (Sonata Form)

3.  Menuetto:  Allegro spiritoso

4.  Allegro molto (Rondo Form)

Style:  Late Classical, circa 1790-1800

Composed:  25 October, 2018 - 26 February, 2019 at Austin

I was right in the middle of composing my Six Quartets for 2 Violas and 2 Violoncelli this past autumn when the germ for this piece came to me like a bolt from the blue.  I very quickly composed the opening movement, and by the beginning of January, the second and third movements were complete.  Over the last couple of months I've been working on the last movement intermittently, and completed it just this evening.  

There aren't very many works for this instrumentation in the repertoire, and aside from a set of six by Luigi Boccherini, none in the Classical style.  

I think I'll let the music say the rest as I'm exhausted now.  I do hope you enjoy this work.  I surely had a blast writing it!    

 

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J. Lee Graham,

1. Very pretty first movement - there was a lot of pleasant moments which I think would make the listener enjoy the piece a lot and stay focused as they wait for those moments to be repeated.

2. Your writing here is quite nice, and easy on the ears. Something you might consider is to expand what's going on past a sort of "everyone doing everything together at the same time" mentality. I'm not saying that's how it was the complete time; for instance, at M. 37- you have the first viola doing a nice suspended rhythm thing over the bar lines. I think this movement could benefit from more such polyrhythmic writing. There certainly is nothing wrong with what you have, I just think it could be a bit more rhythmically developed.

3. You establish a very nice sound straight from the beginning, and I can't imagine anyone not being completely charmed by this movement in a performance. Some of your harmonies are really pretty, and you put a lot of work into the articulation. The trio section provides a nice legato contrast. This is overall a very nice, tight movement. I may be wrong, but I feel like it has the most clearly defined structure.

4. Right off the bat, I am concerned about the runs at places like 34 and 37. I am a cellist and just looking at that, at the tempo the recording is at, is giving me a little bit of a heart attack! I am not the world's greatest cellist though, so perhaps who you are planning on this being performed by will be able to do it. I would just be aware that it is a little bit complicated to play those types of runs so fast on stringed instruments. It can be done, it just increases the difficulty of the piece by quite a bit. As far as the movement goes, there seems to be a lot more going on harmonically here than in the other three...? I'm not really sure, but that's just what my ear is picking up. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just something to consider. Also, just to be clear, figures like at 348 with the repeated 16th notes are very playable, it's the longer runs as I listed before that cause my concern. 

Summary:

I think what you've got here is a very enjoyable, very pleasant piece which would be a lot of fun to hear live. I think that even though you are composing in a very classical style, you could experiment a bit more with rhythm/harmony, however there were some nice moments where you did that, so I am inclined to think that you are very capable of it but perhaps decided not to for this particular piece. In any case, I enjoyed listening to it and hope you get some people to play it sometime!

 

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@celloman99 Thanks so much for a great review! 

2.  I think I know what you mean here as far as getting away from “everyone doing the same thing at the same time,” which is what I was trying to do in the secondary section – there is a lot more motion and push-and-pull here, which I was hoping would be enough.  I’m not big on polyrhythms in music of this style, for obvious reasons, but I’ll keep what you’re saying in mind. 

3.  This movement definitely does have a clearly defined structure, because it’s a Minuet, and the form is fairly strict.  You seem to have really enjoyed this movement, and that’s very gratifying – a lot of people write dance movements off. 

4.  I’m a string player myself, and I’m not very worried about most of the 16th note runs in this movement.  I wrote this for advanced players, and I really wanted to give them some challenging stuff to do.  Interesting that you thought there was more going on harmonically in this movement – it might just be that it’s all going by so fast that it just sounds that way.  It’s definitely a frenetic movement. 

Thank you again so much for this!  I really appreciate it. 

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1. It is nice, and there are exciting moments. It's a good opener which would make the audience interested in your music.

2. I agree with what @celloman99 said, but I feel that the style is a good break from the first movement. The actual chord progressions could be more "advanced" (for want of a better word) to make it more "complex." The moment with the viola suspensions is great.

3. This is a beautiful little movement. You have found freedom within the restricted form of the Minuet. The trio section has a great contrast, without being too alienated. This is a great break between the slow movement and finale, but still is a brilliant piece of music in its own right.

4. A joyful piece. It seems to be unpredictable without sounding forced or wrong. The main subject is quite simple - it could maybe do with a but of harmonic complexity - but it fits your Classical style well. It does fly past quite quickly, but the other movements have been slower so it is a good finale which shows off your players and, more importantly, your compositional skills.

String sextet is a difficult combination to write for, but you have done it very well. No instrument becomes redundant at any point and the balance is good throughout. I am also writing a piece for the same combination, and I find it troublesome to manipulate. Well done on a great piece!

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@aMusicComposer:  Thank you very much as well for a great review!

1.  I’m surprised nobody has raised an eyebrow about the second note of the opening motive – an augmented second from the tonic – kind of a sexy melodic interval for this period, perhaps, but I fell in love with it, obviously, and I think I made it work stylistically.  😊

2.  This is actually my favourite movement of the four, and I think the best written, but I’m keeping in mind what you’ve said about the harmony maybe being more interesting.  I’d still like to think the secondary material, while also simple in basic harmonic structure, is interesting enough in content and texture to mitigate the simplicity of the main theme, but I do see what you mean. 

3.  I’m so glad everybody loves this minuet!  I was inclined to think of it as one of my better ones, and especially now. 

4.  Again, harmonic complexity.  I’m going to have to take this to heart, and do some more listening to even more music of this period to see if I can latch onto some of the more interesting harmonic things they were doing between 1790 and 1800 or so – and not just Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, who were the big three at that time, but some others.  I’m not them, but maybe I can get a bit more adventurous within the confines of the style and my own sensibilities.    

I’m really gratified that, as you said, “no instrument becomes redundant at any point and the balance is good throughout” in this piece.  These are two of the qualities that are the most difficult to accomplish writing for this ensemble, as I’m sure you are discovering since you’re writing a sextet as well.  We’re trained to manipulate harmony in four parts (or less), so what indeed does one do with the extra two parts in a six-part chamber work, in which all the parts really need to contribute equally?  Some advice for you: this ensemble is obviously middle-to-low heavy in overall tessitura, something even two violins playing their hearts out can’t entirely mitigate; therefore, watch low-pitched chords and harmonic relationships carefully, but don’t be afraid of them, because handled with care, they can add uncommon richness to the texture.  Also, something I could probably have done a bit more of myself, though I did try: be sure to thin out the texture to five, four, or even three parts occasionally, as all six parts playing constantly can be wearying on the ear.  I’m currently working on a fun little “Divertimento a 7” (Italian: “a sette” = in seven parts) for Clarinet, 2 Horns, Violin, Viola, ‘Cello, and Bass, and I’m actually having a lot of fun thinning out this potentially rather thick texture as often as practicable, throwing material back and forth between the instruments and making sure that everybody sits out periodically while still having plenty of interest to do.  It’s a challenge, but the results are very rewarding.

Thank you again for your time and attention!  I really appreciate it.               

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