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Instrumental Consideration: Glockenspiel or No in Mercury


Which movements should have the Glockenspiel?  

  1. 1. Which movement should I introduce the Glockenspiel?

    • Mercury, in the icy section
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    • Mars, to get across that it's cold and barren
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    • Jupiter, to get across the Galilean moons
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    • Saturn, to get across Saturn's rings
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  2. 2. Which movements after Saturn should have the Glockenspiel?

    • All following movements, so Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto
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    • Uranus and Pluto
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    • Neptune and Pluto
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    • Just Pluto
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    • Neither
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I have started a long term project related to the planets. Now, my projects are basically divided into short term and long term. Short term projects are those for which I set a deadline(or in composing competitions, deadline is already set) of 2 months or less. And then there are the long term projects for which I don't expect to finish for at least 3 months. Full string quartet would probably take 3 months for me to compose at minimum. Full Symphony is still in the 1+ years range, though I feel like I'm getting more capable of achieving it and my compositional dream, the piano concerto, with every passing month, since I compose daily and have gotten to where orchestral writing isn't so overwhelming. Anyway, back to the planets.

Unlike Holst's suite The Planets, I'm doing things different in these ways:

  1. Writing in planet order, so Mercury is first and not third as in the Holst piece
  2. I'm including Earth and Pluto in my piece
  3. This is the biggest difference, my piece is based on the physical aspects of the planets, not the mythology of the gods of the same name

But there are also similarities to the Holst piece, namely that it is a suite for an orchestra and that each movement has a different instrumentation. Jupiter will be the most dense in instrumentation and I think Pluto will be the most bare in instrumentation, with Neptune, Mercury, and Mars also being relatively bare in instrumentation.

I'm working on the Mercury movement right now and I plan to use 2 distant keys, 4 sharps and 4 flats along with other characteristics to differentiate the hot, daytime section from the icy, nighttime section. This 2 sections of extreme contrast being unified is related to the fact that a solar day on Mercury = 2 Mercury years. Here are some characteristics that will differ between the 2 sections of the movement:

  • Degree of rhythmic complexity -> Hot section will have more rhythmic complexity than the Icy section
  • Instrumental density -> Not necessaraily the actual instrumentation, but the density of it will be less in the Icy section
  • Harmonic dissonance -> Hot section will have more harmonic dissonance

And here is how the instrumental density will change in the Icy section:

  • Strings go pizzicato
  • Piano becomes more melodically dominant(in the Hot section, it's mainly for a rhythmic and harmonic purpose)
  • Woodwinds more dominant
  • Possibly forgoing the horns, or at least keeping them quiet(they blend better with and provide more fullness to the woodwinds at quiet dynamics I think)

And I know the glockenspiel can give an icy tone. In fact, when I do hear an icy tone in music, it's usually one of 2 instruments at high pitch, Piano or Glockenspiel(more often Piano than Glockenspiel). And I have used this high pitch piano = icy or wintery feel on multiple occasions. But should I have the glockenspiel in the Mercury movement or save it for the Saturn movement? In the Saturn movement, this appearance of the glockenspiel will represent the glistening icy beauty that is Saturn's rings.

Should I save it for just that movement though? After all, some other movements will have an icy tone in part of it, namely Mercury as already stated, Mars, possibly Jupiter(if I include the Galilean moons that is), Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

On the other hand, with possibly the exception of Pluto, it isn't very glistening like it is with Saturn's rings, just cold. And in Mercury in particular, I'm wondering if the addition of glockenspiel will bring the extreme contrast too far for it to sound unified in any sense. And yet, I feel like having Saturn be the only movement with glockenspiel in its orchestra is somehow wrong when 6, possibly 7 out of 9 movements will have an icy tone in at least part of it(only movements guaranteed to not have this icy tone are Venus, which will sound like Hell has ensued, and Earth, in which I plan on striking that perfect balance to get across that it is the only planet with life as we know it). So, what should I do? Should I have it in Mercury? Introduce it in Mars or Jupiter? Save it for Saturn and possibly Pluto?

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It's your music; do with it what you want. None of us has the insight into your creative process like you do, so we can't offer a well-informed opinion. Besides, there are, I presume, limitless ways of representing iciness in music; the glockenspiel is simply the most readily apparent. It's entirely possible you could achieve the iciness you're looking for with more than just the glockenspiel, which (to me) depicts a very delicate, frost-like cold—not the murderous frigidity of most of the planets. So, I'd say use the glockenspiel sparingly, perhaps just in Saturn's rings as you mentioned. Otherwise, I fear the pieces run the risk of sounding too similar.

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It might be worth listening to Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antartica - originally film music but he extracted a symphony from it - and uses a few mallet instruments and a soprano to achieve some fairly chilly effects. Not a matter of copying anything but to generate ideas. What I draw from this work is that its melodic structure, tempo and dynamic all add to the chill.

I normally regard R V-W as a shoddy composer but he started to take off in his 5th, 6th and 7th (Antartica) symphonies. However, he seems to have a reputation for being an excellent orchestrator.

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