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Tónskáld

Aldor: Song Cycle for Cello & Piano [POOR FORM ENTRY]

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I present, for your listening enjoyment (or revulsion), my entry for the Poor Form competition: Aldor, a song cycle for cello and piano.

This work is a study in symmetry. As you're probably aware, tonality in music is determined by asymmetry; the intervals between notes in major/minor scales are arranged in certain tone-semitone patterns from which the human ear can determine a "home" or key for the scale. By introducing symmetry into the 12-tone scales that Western music uses, one removes a sense of tonality and instead produces atonality. French composer Olivier Messiaen further explored this in his work, "The Technique of My Musical Language." He fleshed out 7 symmetrical scales, which he called modes of limited transposition. These symmetrical scales form the basis of the harmonies you're about to listen to.

The word "Aldor" is Old English, and means "life" or "vitality." This work, in impressionistic style, describes a life cycle from beginning to end—itself a form of symmetry. The opening theme is developed and undeveloped gradually across five movements, each representing a milestone in a life cycle. I have given a brief description of each movement below.

  1. Waccan. From an Old English word meaning "awakening," the opening movement presents the "cycle theme" via solo cello—simple and unadulterated. After that, the cello and piano conflict with each other in a murky 5/4 meter, closing in an F# major chord. The symmetrical scales used here are Messiaen's 1st and 2nd modes.
  2. Astígnes. This movement, meaning "a rising up or ascension," begins with a piano rendition of the cycle theme. It is afterwards joined by the cello in a dance-like rhythm and tune, reminiscent of a bouncing toddler or an empire sputtering to life. This movement features Messiaen's 2nd and 3rd modes.
  3. Hréð. The mesial movement means "triumph, victory," and represents the power of the height of a life cycle. Piano and cello combine to bring the cycle theme, followed by the most dramatic 4 minutes of the entire song cycle. This movement boasts the most virtuosic passages for cello and piano, and is based on Messiaen's 4th mode.
  4. Sweðrung. The fourth movement mirrors the second in some ways: the piano brings the cycle theme, and the tempo and rhythm are scherzo-like. However, this movement, meaning "corruption or decline," is in a disturbing 5/8 meter and lacks the "major" overtones of the second movement. It uses Messiaen's 5th mode.
  5. Ellorsíþ. The finale begins with an emotional delivery of the cycle theme by the solo cello, which is afterward joined by piano in a slow, rhythmic 9/8 meter, reminiscent of a boat sailing to undying lands (the title means "departure, journey to beyond"). Like the 4th movement, this movement mirrors the first. It also contains themes from every movement that came before it, albeit in reverse order: 4th movement themes come before 3rd movement themes, and so forth. The ending epilogue begins with a simple restatement of the cycle theme from the cello, finally joined by the piano as the cycle closes in a whispered F# major chord. This movement is based on Messiaen's beautiful 6th mode, which contains the 1st mode (cf., the first movement).

This was a lot of fun to put together, and I'm grateful for the structure this competition provided! Here's a link to the songs via SoundCloud:

As an amateur linguist, I would be remiss if I didn't provide some guidance on the pronunciation of the titles. So, I'll leave you with that:

Waccan—WAHK-kahn; Astígnes—ah-STEEG-ness; Hréð—HRAYDH*; Sweðrung—SWEDH*-roong; Ellorsíþ-EL-lor-seeth*

*"dh" is a voiced th as in they; "th" is an unvoiced th as in thanks

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This is so moody, I love it! Maybe moody isn't the right word since you've clearly gone to some lengths to write something rather serious, but what I mean is that I like the atmosphere of it. I'd never heard of these scales before, and they're pretty interesting. If I had to pick, I'd say the second movement is my favorite! The whole thing is pretty amazing though. It's completely out of this world to me. Awesome job!

I'm about to go listen to Gustav's submission and I think I saw the word 'drunk' somewhere in the description when I opened up the tab earlier so I'm anticipating some outright goonery over there. Here goes!

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Oh, please... they're moody through and through. Seriously moody.

I'm glad you enjoyed it! I hadn't used those scales before and now I'm quite taken with them.

And I liked Gustav submission, too. Quite a different flavor from the others I've listened to. Very refreshing!

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@Tónskáld I wasn't truely alerted by your question until I read your description of Aldor: I think I create a new mode everytime I write my music... I seldom rely on the common mode like Lydian modes... 

And perhaps your use of Messiaen's mode and your unique use of harmonic language enriches this work! I love the ambience you created here. It is also interesting to see, despite some similarities in the motives we chose, the outcome can be so different and I greatly appreciate that! 😄 Well done! 

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Just now, Tónskáld said:

I'm obtuse... what are sondfonts?

 

Lol like the instrument library you used for the recording.
 

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While I have you on the horn, are your up bow and down bow markings accidentally reversed, or do you intend Mvt. III for example, to be played all up bow (a weaker, more strained sound)? I want to get my commentary right.

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@Monarcheon, gotcha.

The cello is from Spitfire Audio's Solo Strings collection. The piano is actually me playing on a keyboard to a Studio 7ft. soundset by Ivory Synthogy. (I also played the cello on the keyboard—for a couple of the pieces. But the timing was really, really hard to match up. So I ended up just using Sibelius.)

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3 minutes ago, Monarcheon said:

While I have you on the horn, are your up bow and down bow markings accidentally reversed, or do you intend Mvt. III for example, to be played all up bow (a weaker, more strained sound)? I want to get my commentary right.

 

Nope, they must be reversed. I mean, yes, they're reversed. I wanted the stronger sound.

Edited by Tónskáld
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Tonskald!

I’m excited to listen to your piece – I’ve often considered the idea of symmetry and asymmetry in music, although your approach and source material (Olivier Messiaen) are new to me. Can’t wait to listen! This is my first listen to the work, so you’ll get my first impression thoughts (I type and listen at the same time). Here we go!

 

I.                    Nice cello sample (and piano when it enters). I wish my sounds were that nice. #SoundSetsAreExpensive... Your theme offers some good possibilities. I like the style and emotion it presents. Cool tremolos, wasn’t expecting that twist. Also the double stops are quite effective. Good interplay between the piano and the cello. Everything is well-balanced and sounds good with the other part. @2:50, wow! In general this is really good stuff, and is very cohesive despite being through-composed.

II.                 Interesting re-use of the shared material. The harmonization especially is sublime. To be honest, I’m going to sit back and enjoy this because so far this piece is awesome. Less typing, more listening!

III.              A little harder to follow the opening idea in this one – although it’s great composing.

IV.              The uneven time signatures pushed you into some really cool ideas – good idea.

V.                Cleverly and carefully done!

 

Overall some really lovely music. The piece is super mature and very carefully thought out, and well executed to boot! Sorry I don’t have much to offer in the way of things that could be better, I’m not sure if there is anything I’d change. Good work!

 

Gustav Johnson

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@Gustav Johnson

I appreciate the thorough evaluation, and I'm sorry you had to listen to over 20 minutes to get the full work in. (This is my first time to participate in these competitions; after hearing what everyone else did, my entry seems way too long. This has been noted for future competitions.)

1 hour ago, Gustav Johnson said:

Nice cello sample (and piano when it enters). I wish my sounds were that nice. #SoundSetsAreExpensive...

Yes, expensive they are! I've had to build mine up over the years, kind of like a composer's "treat yo' self."

1 hour ago, Gustav Johnson said:

Overall some really lovely music. The piece is super mature and very carefully thought out, and well executed to boot! Sorry I don’t have much to offer in the way of things that could be better, I’m not sure if there is anything I’d change. Good work!

You are very kind to say so! But a piece of music is only as good as its inspiration, so I can't take all the credit. And there are parts of it that make me cringe, especially considering what the competition guidelines called for and to what awful extent I ignored those rules.

Thanks again,

Jordan

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Congratulations on a very serious and dramatic work @Tónskáld. I think it's a definite front-runner in this competition!

I love the dark atmosphere you've created, and the interplay between the cello and piano is very well done. You clearly know your stuff!

One minor criticism -- While there were plenty of awesome compositional techniques used, I would've liked to have heard more variation in the mood of the piece between movements. There were hints of warmth in the first and last movements that I found to be quite lovely juxtapositioned against the darker canvas of the piece at large. This is minor, though, and I want the main takeaway from this review to be -- bravo! Really well done.

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2 hours ago, Noah Brode said:

Congratulations on a very serious and dramatic work @Tónskáld. I think it's a definite front-runner in this competition!

I love the dark atmosphere you've created, and the interplay between the cello and piano is very well done. You clearly know your stuff!

One minor criticism -- While there were plenty of awesome compositional techniques used, I would've liked to have heard more variation in the mood of the piece between movements. There were hints of warmth in the first and last movements that I found to be quite lovely juxtapositioned against the darker canvas of the piece at large. This is minor, though, and I want the main takeaway from this review to be -- bravo! Really well done.

 

Wow, thanks, Noah! I appreciate the thoughtful comments. As far as this piece being a front-runner... maybe if the competition was a freestyle. I grossly misinterpreted the rules and thought the only development of the shared material had to occur at the beginning of each movement, and never recur. Listening to everyone else's thematic development of the opening theme—all I can do is facepalm myself. 🤦‍♂️Oh, well. The main thing is it got me to be inventive and use scales I probably never would have on my own.

do know the piano. I don't know the cello. I play viola and violin. My friend, the dedicatee for this piece, is a stellar cellist. However, for some reason he decided to go have a career and do other adult things, so he moved away before I could have him "test drive" this. As it stands, the cello part was written based on my holding a viola between my legs and working out bowings and double stops and stuff. (Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, am I right?)

Ah, yes, the "stuck" mood. My first excuse is I've never used these scales before. I'm sure that will hold up in a court of law. My second excuse—at least in my limited experience—is that not all these scales lend themselves well to warm, upbeat chords. (The warm passages you're referring to were largely produced by going back to the diatonic scales we all know and love.) For modes 4 and 6, the only major/minor triads one can create from a given scale are complements: for example, A major and Eb major. Modes 1 and 5 contain no major/minor triads. Mode 2 (octatonics) has a little more flexibility in that it has two pairs of complement triads, so one can generate a little more warmth. Mode 3 is super flexible—each scale has 6 major/minor triads and no complements—which is why the 2nd movement sounds more upbeat than the others.

This means the last 3 movements, being based on scales with harsh intervals, sounded similar in mood. I should have fiddled with the scales ahead of time rather than just composing with them in numerical order. Hindsight.

Thanks again for taking the time to listen! Cheers!

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Gosh, it's incredible to see how this turned out.

The fourth movement is probably my favourite.

They all sound very lyrical, and precise. They are also very particular to your style, which is a huge compliment. You have a well-defined direction in your music, and the way you use juxtaposition is impressive. In most of your pieces there are very clear cuts between the parts, and they don't last very long. However, it all sounds just right.

Congratulations, Jordan, this is amazing.

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20 minutes ago, Jean Szulc said:

Gosh, it's incredible to see how this turned out.

The fourth movement is probably my favourite.

They all sound very lyrical, and precise. They are also very particular to your style, which is a huge compliment. You have a well-defined direction in your music, and the way you use juxtaposition is impressive. In most of your pieces there are very clear cuts between the parts, and they don't last very long. However, it all sounds just right.

Congratulations, Jordan, this is amazing.

 

Thanks, Jean! And I especially thank you for taking the time to review these before I posted them on here! You're not only a great composer—you're also a great person! 🤗

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I love that. The arrangement totally fits with the character of your cycle. I think Cello is one of the most beautiful and expressive instruments (dark in the low register, gentle in the middle register and tense in the upper register).

If I had time, I would learn to play Cello.

Thanks to post it @Tónskáld!

Edited by Guillem82
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2 hours ago, Luis Hernández said:

@Tónskáld

Hi, a question: what do you mean by complement triads, and no complement triads?

 

 

I'm not sure if that's the official name for them, but I was referring to the major triad that contains the complementary notes of another major scale. So the complementary scale for C major is the pentatonic scale C#-D#-F#-G#-A# (i.e., the black keys). The major triad that contains these is F# major. For A major, it's Eb major. And so forth.

I hope that explains what I was trying to convey.

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