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The 4 Seasons Challenge: Spring

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So I decided to make a challenge for myself since I already completed a piece that represents a season. This challenge is for me to represent all 4 seasons. The first in this 4 seasons bunch is my Spring Trio piece, the first piece that I ever composed for a trio. It has your standard piano trio instrumentation of piano, violin, and cello. I am already working on my Summer piece but don't expect it to be finished anytime soon, it is orchestral. So now to how I composed this Spring Trio and my use of tone painting.

I concentrated more on expression here than the form itself. The piece is supposed to represent the transition from Winter to Spring. That is why I went more freeform with this piece(though still using fugato and there is even a canonic passage in there between the violin and the cello)


First off, the chain of harmonies that I used. I decided to go from D minor(the key of the Winter Wind phrase) to D major. But I wanted it to sound like it was gradually going towards a more major sound to represent the warming up. So I decided on this progression of modulations:

D minor -> C major -> B minor -> G major -> A major -> D major

The modulation to C major is basically a modal modulation(if there even is such a term). So it goes from Aeolian to Dorian but instead of ending on D which it sounds like it is going to, it ends on C giving a further drive forward. Going to B minor is mostly a chromatic half step modulation(I say mostly because a truly chromatic half step modulation would have landed on B major. Still 3 steps away from D major, the target key but less closely related than B minor. B minor I also use as a pivot from flats to sharps. I still use Bb though and not A# because it makes more sense to me to use Bb, especially since I go back to the flats relatively soon after the B minor phrase twice. The modulation to G major is your typical pivot chord modulation. Then you have like the modulation equivalent of a cadence to D major.

This brings me to my next point. I have 2 incomplete harmonic cycles to represent how there are several bouts of spring weather(harmonic cycle) followed by cold snaps(sudden jolt back to D minor) before spring is here for sure. The fugato that I use in the first 2 minutes or so reinforces this uncertainty about whether the warming up is long term or not. I follow this with a complete harmonic cycle to express that spring is coming.

Tone Painting

You could say the entire piece is tone painting but there are 2 places that have more tone painting going on than anywhere else. First off, the Winter Wind phrase. There are multiple layers of tone painting here. First off, the key is minor and the phrase as a whole sounds melancholy. This coupled with the fast staccato of the piano gives a very wintry feel to the phrase. The staccato itself represents the snowfall. The pizzicato strings represent the strong wind. The longer notes represent the person experiencing this winter weather.

Second is the complete harmonic cycle. After the last entry of the Winter Wind, there is a similar phrase except, the piano does not play a role here or at least one that is significant. Because of the more major sound to it, that same combination of slow cello notes and fast violin notes represents sunny weather(which becomes more frequent during Spring in my area(I live in Ohio)). After the canonic passage, the overall feel of it is "Any day now, Spring is really close, I just know it". The G major phrase sounds more anticipatory with its loud dynamics followed by a diminuendo into the next phrase. That phrase starts off pianissimo and then gradually goes to forte.

A melodic motif starts the ending phrase. That BACB motif, it represents the song-like birdcall of the American Robin, a bird that I start hearing a few days after the spring equinox. Then there are 2 instruments playing and then all of a sudden, there is just 1 line again. In this case, it is representing the well known "Jeer" call of the Blue Jay by staying on 1 note. Then, again 2 instruments and then all of a sudden, all 3 instruments are playing birdcalls starting with the violin playing the Cardinal birdcall, then the cello joins in with the Robin birdcall, and then the piano joins in with the Blue Jay birdcall and then it leads to another short, non-birdcall melody. Then all 3 birdcalls at once, and then the final ending melody which has the ending whole notes with a fermata and at a fortissimo dynamic to conclude the piece.


So I would like some feedback on this. How well did I get across the feelings of Winter and Spring? How well did I incorporate those birdcall motifs? Which one do you think I incorporated better than the others if you had to chose? The Robin motif because it is used more and is what starts the Spring is Here phrase? Here is my Spring Trio:


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Hello again, Caters!

Your pieces always seem so well-planned, and this one is no exception. As an avid ornithologist when I was a kid, I appreciate incorporating the authentic birdcalls into this! I can tell you're developing your own style and you appear to be pretty familiar with music theory. Kudos to you for putting in that kind of work!

Here are some things that have helped me as a composer. First, I have to remember that music is primarily an art, not a science (although it is definitely both). When I focus too heavily on the form and not the art of music, I tend to create pieces that my head likes but my heart doesn't. Ideally, both head and heart should be happy with the music I write. But striking that balance is very tricky, and only the greatest composers do that bit well! When I use music to paint how something makes me feel (spring, for instance), I'm generally much happier with the result because my head, with all its music theory, can very easily whip the melodies into shape. In other words, I lead with my heart and correct with my head.

Also, I've found that it helps to envision people actually playing my music as I write it. There's almost always a way to construct a melody so that it's enjoyable for the instrumentalist to play. I try to minimize bland repitition, and treat each line of music as if I were the one playing it.

All in all, my head really liked your Spring Trio but my heart wanted more emotion out of it. You have a lot of good ideas, though, and I'm confident you'll only get better over time!

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