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Variations for Wind Trio in Bb minor


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I've been working on this for the past couple of weeks.  It's a Theme and Variations for Wind Trio (Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon).  It was a melody I liked and it inspired some cool harmony as well so I thought to come up with some variations for it and it snowballed into this piece which is way longer than I planned on making it.  To prevent myself from reviewing my own music ... I'll leave it at that, save that I am sure there is plenty to criticize in this piece so don't hold back please!  I welcome all your criticisms, suggestions, and observations as always.

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Well done!

PROS:     Your score writing is fantastic, I love seeing when composers take the time to make their score neat and as readable as possible. I'll point out a few of my favorite variations. The fugal one, 5, was awesome. A great change of texture from the flurry of triplets/sextuplets and parallel harmonies. 9 was really cool too, I like the singing bassoon melody with the others creating a windy harmonic scene. I really liked 14 as well, I like the quick harmony, nice change in pace. 

You write really well for these instruments, do you play any of them? Throughout you do a great job creating variety with a plethora of rhythmic manipulations and a key change. I really enjoyed your use of rhythmic development, especially that first 3 16th note run. I think it's important to know which figures in your theme are catchy and easy to identify, and that was one of them. I listened wtih the score and without, and it was easy to identify a lot of the variations because of that. 

I also liked the continuity of your piece. There were a few cadences signifying a change in variation, but mostly it didn't and flowed extremely well. I did like the toying with the cadences in the middle of the theme, very clever. For instance, the fast runs in the flute and clarinet and giving long notes once and a while. It didn't feel choppy (so many theme and variations pieces feel like that to me. You never know when it's going to end.). Speaking of that, you even give a coda which really punched this home. All in all, great work!

 

CONS:     Not many, but one thing that viciously jumped out at me was how thick the texture was throughout the entire piece. I liked the 5th variation so much because it WAS a change in texture. Those few moments of breathing room to let each instrument enter with the theme were what my ears wanted. The thickness with all the instruments playing all the time was a bit jarring sometimes; I got lost sometimes searching for theme. 

I question the playability sometimes too, especially in the flute. It just seems like they don't have much time to breathe sometimes, but I'm no expert in that and am over conscious about it. 

 

 

 

Overall, this was a great piece. I know how hard it can be to continue to create interesting and new variations on a single theme, and I gave this a few listens not so much for critique but because I enjoyed it. Awesome!

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Whew!  What a review!

8 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

Your score writing is fantastic, I love seeing when composers take the time to make their score neat and as readable as possible. I'll point out a few of my favorite variations. The fugal one, 5, was awesome.

Thanks!  I intended variation V to use loose canonic imitation, stopping just short of a fugue as that would be quite beyond my abilities (I think) LoL.  I only dream of writing fugues.  I was going to write a fugal movement for the Piano Quartet in G# minor using the main theme from the first movement developing it a little further - don't know if I'll ever finish that.

13 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

9 was really cool too, I like the singing bassoon melody with the others creating a windy harmonic scene.

The melody from this variation is loosely based on a retrograde of the main theme in case you didn't notice. (-:

15 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

You write really well for these instruments, do you play any of them?

Clarinet was my first instrument back in jr. high school band.  I've had some opportunity to try Flute as well.  The fingerings for the first two octaves are surprisingly easy to get the hang of.  I don't remember ever having tried playing Bassoon but I did get the chance to try out Oboe which I was able to play the first octave on (I am talking about just playing the C major scale on these instruments)

21 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

I question the playability sometimes too, especially in the flute. It just seems like they don't have much time to breathe sometimes, but I'm no expert in that and am over conscious about it.

The flute expends more air in the lowest octave, but in the higher octaves can play for longer periods of time.  I didn't think to go over the score in regard to this issue though.  Generally though I thought I wrote my figurations with plenty of space in between - they just ended up being more musically satisfying with rests at the beginning of the figure most of the time.  Was there a specific spot where you thought the flute would run out?  Usually through rehearsal they can plan out when they need to take their biggest breaths so that they last through the next phrase though.

26 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

The thickness with all the instruments playing all the time was a bit jarring sometimes; I got lost sometimes searching for theme.

I have to agree with you on this one.  When I wrote this on paper, I thought certain of the variations would be more accessible than they ended up being.  Needless to say, there's some superfluous noodling in this.  When I write variations I try to show how different each variation can be while still being clearly related to the original theme which is all the attraction in a piece like this for me.

30 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

Overall, this was a great piece. I know how hard it can be to continue to create interesting and new variations on a single theme, and I gave this a few listens not so much for critique but because I enjoyed it. Awesome!

Thanks!  I am glad you enjoyed it.  And thanks for your thorough review!

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10 minutes ago, PaperComposer said:

The flute expends more air in the lowest octave, but in the higher octaves can play for longer periods of time.  I didn't think to go over the score in regard to this issue though.  Generally though I thought I wrote my figurations with plenty of space in between - they just ended up being more musically satisfying with rests at the beginning of the figure most of the time.  Was there a specific spot where you thought the flute would run out?  Usually through rehearsal they can plan out when they need to take their biggest breaths so that they last through the next phrase though.

Makes sense, I wouldn't say any one spot in particular, but bars 227 - 296 (the end) just seems questionable because there are no rests. You seem pretty knowledgeable about it though, and like I said I'm over-paranoid about the breathing.  😄

16 minutes ago, PaperComposer said:

I have to agree with you on this one.  When I wrote this on paper, I thought certain of the variations would be more accessible than they ended up being.  Needless to say, there's some superfluous noodling in this.  When I write variations I try to show how different each variation can be while still being clearly related to the original theme which is all the attraction in a piece like this for me.

There would be easy solutions I think, you have so much material. For instance, the parallel harmonies were cool, but after a while it could feel strenuous even if you change the interval. What about a question/answer? For variation 9, maybe you could have the flute and clarinet have separate moments and then come together at the cadences at bars 206 and 209? That way you could have the same intent but change up the texture of that variation and how it effects the piece as a whole. 

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10 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

Makes sense, I wouldn't say any one spot in particular, but bars 227 - 296 (the end) just seems questionable because there are no rests.

There are a lot of tenuto (a staccato mark under a line) and staccato markings in those measures.  You'd be surprised how quickly it is possible to sneak in a breath in between any of those notes.  Also in any ensemble, the flute usually has the easiest job with their note lengths because in order for any given chord to sound full and ring out properly it's usually the bass instruments that have to hold their notes out the longest while the higher instruments can get away with playing the notes short (I don't remember why this phenomenon takes place).

20 minutes ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

What about a question/answer? For variation 9, maybe you could have the flute and clarinet have separate moments and then come together at the cadences at bars 206 and 209? That way you could have the same intent but change up the texture of that variation and how it effects the piece as a whole. 

I didn't think of that.  It would have been a fun way of trading the figurations around the various instruments while also keeping the overall texture somewhat sparse enough to let the listener absorb everything.  Now I'm getting all kinds of ideas LoL.  I don't know if I feel right now like adding to or changing this piece.  Alas, I forgot who it was that said that art is never finished, only abandoned...  LoL

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2 minutes ago, PaperComposer said:

Now I'm getting all kinds of ideas LoL.  I don't know if I feel right now like adding to or changing this piece.  Alas, I forgot who it was that said that art is never finished, only abandoned...  LoL

Ha! Thanks for the tips with the flute, you're giving me ideas for wind ensembles now. I forget that it's better to write something too hard and have someone point it out then being timid and writing with no confidence.

You could change things, but if you make changes you'll never end your changes...you could tinker forever lol. I always think of critiques as advice and inspiration for the future. Usually when someone points out a flaw or something in my music, it makes me want to rectify that in something new. 

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12 hours ago, Thatguy v2.0 said:

CONS:     Not many, but one thing that viciously jumped out at me was how thick the texture was throughout the entire piece. I liked the 5th variation so much because it WAS a change in texture. Those few moments of breathing room to let each instrument enter with the theme were what my ears wanted. The thickness with all the instruments playing all the time was a bit jarring sometimes; I got lost sometimes searching for theme. 

 

Agreed. To put it in a different sense, the piece itself needs a breath.  It goes and goes albeit gorgeous; however, music is life and life needs to breathe. A sense of repose would make this composition come to life even more.  Even check out Beethoven's 5th.  Notice how Beethoven adds those reposes throughout the piece.  Magically done.

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Not much to say. Great work.

I like that the essence of the main theme is not lost, but sometimes the variation goes far enough.

About the "breathing" i don't think it's a bad approach. But I feel more that the works would benefit of some "rest" somewhere, Or, for example, as happens in measures 99-101, that the instruments enter one after the other. This way the texture would change some times.

 

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@maestrowick Do you mean the 1st movement of Beethoven's 5th where the main theme comes in on an off beat?

@Luis Hernández What do you mean when you say that "the essence of the main theme is not lost, but sometimes the variation goes far enough"?  Do some of the variations stray too far from the theme?  Or are some of the variations more tiresome than the others?

Thank you all for reviewing my piece!  I do agree that it could use more repose - especially towards the end I started focusing more on a way to end the piece rather than musicality.

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3 hours ago, PaperComposer said:

What do you mean when you say that "the essence of the main theme is not lost, but sometimes the variation goes far enough"?  Do some of the variations stray too far from the theme?  Or are some of the variations more tiresome than the others?

That is the point of a variarion form. Some of them are closer to the original, some are not. That is good.

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Really nice piece! You're able to achieve a wide variety of interesting textures and variations with only the three instruments. I'm always intimidated by writing chamber music since there's no way to hide behind orchestration like you can with a larger ensemble.

I though the biggest thing this piece needs is dynamics. The dynamics you indicate are fairly sparse, and for the last several pages are almost completely absent. I think actual players would naturally come up with their own dynamics, but the MIDI sounds mostly the same dynamic throughout (though this is likely a software limitation to some extent)

On the breathing, I think live players could solve a lot of the problems on their own. With the MIDI, a lot of the variations that end on long notes run immediately into the next variation, where live players would naturally stop to take a breath, which would give the piece the figurative "breath" it needs before moving on. I think some dynamic contrast would also help give the piece room to "breathe".

A couple other things I noticed:

  • M.104 - I'm not 100% sure, but I think the fast repeated staccato notes in the bassoon might be quite difficult in that register. I think the notes that low have a hard time speaking on the instrument. It might be worthwhile to consult a bassoonist.
  • In m.190 the flute and bassoon have a minor 9th on the upbeat of 2 that resolves to a major 9th, which I don't think is "strict" counterpoint. It happens pretty quick so I don't think it's that big a deal, but I thought I would mention it in case you overlooked it. There's a similar case in m.198, and in m.214 the bassoon and flute are in seconds when the flute enters.
  • The March (IV) - I think it's good the way it is, the only suggestion I might have would be to have the bassoon play upbeats along with the downbeats. I think this might give this section a more "march-like" feel (since you don't have a percussion section lol). For example, maybe give the bassoons upbeats on F3 (in addition to the existing downbeats) in the first few measures and adjust as appropriate? Just an idea, feel free to ignore.

Overall, really good job! I look forward to hearing more.

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22 minutes ago, gmm said:

Really nice piece! You're able to achieve a wide variety of interesting textures and variations with only the three instruments. I'm always intimidated by writing chamber music since there's no way to hide behind orchestration like you can with a larger ensemble.

Ironically I am switching gears after this piece (I am kind of sick of writing variations now LoL) and hopefully writing something for a larger ensemble.

25 minutes ago, gmm said:

I though the biggest thing this piece needs is dynamics. The dynamics you indicate are fairly sparse, and for the last several pages are almost completely absent. I think actual players would naturally come up with their own dynamics, but the MIDI sounds mostly the same dynamic throughout (though this is likely a software limitation to some extent)

You're totally right.  The dynamics I did indicate are mostly there for the sake of balance and letting the players know the most important line in any given variation.  The one exception is VIII but for some reason the crescendos and decrescendos didn't get recorded in the mp3.  I don't know why but sometimes, MuseScore is finnicky about actually performing those.

31 minutes ago, gmm said:

M.104 - I'm not 100% sure, but I think the fast repeated staccato notes in the bassoon might be quite difficult in that register. I think the notes that low have a hard time speaking on the instrument. It might be worthwhile to consult a bassoonist.

I didn't think of that.  I was going to retort that under usual circumstances triple tonguing would do the trick but I didn't consider the register.  Where is @Leonardo C. Núñez when you need him?  LoL  Or anyone else who plays bassoon?

35 minutes ago, gmm said:

There's a similar case in m.198, and in m.214 the bassoon and flute are in seconds when the flute enters.

Yes - this bothered me too when I listened on headphones but then listening on speakers it didn't, so I decided to keep it as is.  I didn't spend much time thinking about how I might have solved that though.  I wouldn't usually allow those kinds of 2nd's in this style of music except in passing.

40 minutes ago, gmm said:

The March (IV) - I think it's good the way it is, the only suggestion I might have would be to have the bassoon play upbeats along with the downbeats. I think this might give this section a more "march-like" feel (since you don't have a percussion section lol). For example, maybe give the bassoons upbeats on F3 (in addition to the existing downbeats) in the first few measures and adjust as appropriate?

I am not sure I like this idea.  I think I'd rather not err on the side of carnival music or a Russian tropak which these kinds of upbeats would inevitably remind me of LoL /-:

43 minutes ago, gmm said:

Overall, really good job! I look forward to hearing more.

Thanks!  I do have another Variations piece brewing for solo Piano, but I don't know if I feel like working on it right now LoL.  I feel like doing something completely different and unformulaic/unstructured, possibly for orchestra, possibly with a program.  Well see what I come up with.  Thanks for your review!

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3 hours ago, PaperComposer said:

I didn't think of that.  I was going to retort that under usual circumstances triple tonguing would do the trick but I didn't consider the register.  Where is @Leonardo C. Núñez when you need him?  LoL  Or anyone else who plays bassoon?

Actually had some time at school to listen and look. It seems fine to me, even the low quick staccato. A normal bassoonist should be able to play it. Should...

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