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Divertimento and Variations for String Quartet


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So this is a variations piece (once again) that I wrote based on my own original theme meant to explore cross-relations in a poly-tonal context.  I have to take exception to the idea that the minor 9th is the most dissonant interval.  I once walked into a bookstores music theory section and opened a random 20th century harmony textbook to a random page and read that the farther apart a dissonant interval is voiced the less dissonant it becomes.  You'll have to judge for yourself whether that is true or not in this piece.

The theme is a Divertimento although I guess only sarcastically so since I've been told that the piece raises tension rather than providing an entertaining atmosphere (usually divertimenti were meant to be played at social occasions/parties while the appetizers were being served etc.)  The theme is in 3/4 and there are a total of five variations.  Variation I is in 6/8.  Variation II is a fast 2/4 version of the theme.  Variation III is a slow 3/4 version.  Variation IV uses frequent meter changes and irregular meters and passes the theme throughout the quartet.   Variation V is the finale and interrupts the theme with competing motives from the introduction.  On the whole I feel like the variations might not be different enough from each other but let me know what you think.

Unfortunately MuseScore 3 kept crashing on start-up after receiving a new update so I had to reinstall it.  As a result, this recording was made with the default MuseScore 3 soundfonts.

For some who may be wondering why I write so many variations pieces - I tend to resort to writing variations when I have a musical idea that is too short to stand on its own.  The format allows me to develop and explore the idea by making little changes to each progressive repetition of the theme.  I guess I should also keep in mind other forms though - maybe I'm using my familiarity with the variations process as a crutch?  Let me know what you think if you feel like commenting and thanks for listening!

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Well, a very nice piece indeed. Modern, energetic and something to re-listen to again and again not just because the contrast in the variations sustains interest but the contrapuntal interleaving of parts suggests a listener will derive new experiences with each audition - like, notice new things.

 I liked the 'differential dynamics, example bar 15 and on where you're crossfading parts, dimming down one while crescendoing another. The phrasing seems excellent. Are you a string player?

The vertical (spatial) layout gives the piece room to breath properly if that makes sense, no muddiness, entries are clean and clear.

Can only say "congrats".

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1 hour ago, Quinn said:

Well, a very nice piece indeed. Modern, energetic and something to re-listen to again and again not just because the contrast in the variations sustains interest but the contrapuntal interleaving of parts suggests a listener will derive new experiences with each audition - like, notice new things.

Thank you!  So it didn't sound too repetitive I guess?  I thought I did a better job  developing the theme in new and unexplored ways in my competition piece "Medley on a Theme by Yoshimatsu" but that piece is much more tonal and uses very traditional harmony.

1 hour ago, Quinn said:

I liked the 'differential dynamics, example bar 15 and on where you're crossfading parts, dimming down one while crescendoing another. The phrasing seems excellent. Are you a string player?

LoL - No I am not a string player.  Actually, I was going to ask if any string players might have any ideas about which phrases would be good to be played sul ponticello or sul tasto.  I am glad that you noticed the dynamics - I took great care in creating the right balance between the parts and making it clear about which were the most important lines.  I feel like I do need to have more control over the dynamics though than MuseScore 3 allows which I can probably only get by getting a DAW and/or better soundfonts.

1 hour ago, Quinn said:

Can only say "congrats".

Thank you for your time and your review!  I really appreciate it especially with this piece since I don't think it's harmonic language will inspire very much attention.🤐

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If I had any comment at all it was the length of the pauses between variations that at times seemed just too long. The one at letter III seemed about right.

I get the feel of what you say about repetitive but it works as it is. If it does concern you one possibility is swapping the Violin2 and Viola parts in variation 1, the Vn2 part transferred to viola an octave lower. But this was just a thought. The tempi changes otherwise avoid the feel of repetition to me, more than these are variations anyway. If you'd wanted to put one in multiple minor keys you'd have composed it that way. (An interesting prospect all the same). 

I couldn't spot any points where sul pont or tasto would enhance things. Variation 3 is too lyrical for sul pont but could be done tasto as a whole. The string writing came over as pretty good. Without a very detailed look I can't see performance problems. Most of the switches between pizz and arco are nifty but manageable. More of a problem when the following arco starts on an upbow and superficially I can't see any of these. 

All good! 

Edit. PS. you're right about a DAW. At times the notation performance lets things down. Example, the Violin 1 entry in bar 24 is too weak in the rendering, given you've marked it mp, slightly higher than the p of the others. You'd get more dynamic variation with a daw.

Edited by Quinn
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5 hours ago, Quinn said:

I couldn't spot any points where sul pont or tasto would enhance things. Variation 3 is too lyrical for sul pont but could be done tasto as a whole.

I thought maybe the tremolos in the viola at times could have been either sul tasto or sul ponticello.

5 hours ago, Quinn said:

If you'd wanted to put one in multiple minor keys you'd have composed it that way. (An interesting prospect all the same).

When writing this I thought of the highest voices as being both in A minor and A major while the cello I often thought of in G lydian.  D major/minor also sneaks in there often as a kind of mediator between the two keys.

5 hours ago, Quinn said:

Edit. PS. you're right about a DAW. At times the notation performance lets things down. Example, the Violin 1 entry in bar 24 is too weak in the rendering, given you've marked it mp, slightly higher than the p of the others. You'd get more dynamic variation with a daw.

Thanks for that - I could add an accent to maybe bring out that entry a bit more.

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20 hours ago, PaperComposer said:

I thought maybe the tremolos in the viola at times could have been either sul tasto or sul ponticello.

I wondered - tremolos are a prime target for the eerily gritty sound of sul pont but it may come over too intrusive. There's only one way to find out if you have samples for this articulation. Why not? Alternatively you don't have to play right up to the bridge. You could try something like un poco più vicino il ponte - sort of 'a little closer to the bridge'. 

I have a few moments coming up: if you're ok about it I could run up those few bars, naturale, sul pont and vicino il ponte on a daw. Can't promise wonders but the difference would be clear.

 

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20 minutes ago, Quinn said:

I have a few moments coming up: if you're ok about it I could run up those few bars, naturale, sul pont and vicino il ponte on a daw. Can't promise wonders but the difference would be clear.

If you have the time then by all means!  Do you need an xml file or something?

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No need. I have a quartet template and can input through this midi keyboard from your score. Let's give it a go anyway and if I mess it up I may have to come back cap in hand for an xml. I'll do up to about bar 17 so there's a lead in if that's ok. Give us a day?

Cheers.

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Here are my tries, following your dynamics and articulations as far as possible.

The first is the 'naturale' version, the second the 'sul point' and the last is a cross-fade between the two 'a little nearer the bridge'. 

The tremolo (semiquaver) passage is very slightly exaggerated so the effect is clearer, but only very slightly.

Let me know if there are any mistakes!

Edited by Quinn
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Nice!  Thank you so much!  You are a champ for having done this by hand.  I personally prefer the cross-faded version the best "a little closer to the bridge".  I think the viola tremolo is at first from F# to G natural not G# and in measure 7 the 1st Violin has a C natural not C#.  Also, I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong but in measure 10 the 2nd Violin part isn't entirely correct.  Of course, you don't have to correct it as that would be more work.  As it stands this is a great example of some of these extended violin techniques for anyone considering including them in their string works.  Thanks again for your help!

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Oops! Sorry about that. I spotted the error in bar 10 - the high G#. Can't let that go without putting in right. (Hence it's always useful having a chance to practice input from a score!)

Here, the corrected files:

It's an accomplished work. Here's hoping you can have it performed live.

 

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5 minutes ago, Left Unexplained said:

interesting stuff. Your chromatic language is darker than mine, I can learn from this! Good job

Thanks!  btw concerning the lydian mode I've heard @gmm comment that even lydian can sound dark .. I guess it's all about how you use it.

EDIT:  Have you seen the modes organized by their supposed respective darkness or brightness?  Lydian is supposedly the brightest mode on the scale.

Edited by PaperComposer
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7 minutes ago, PaperComposer said:

Thanks!  btw concerning the lydian mode I've heard @gmm comment that even lydian can sound dark .. I guess it's all about how you use it.

EDIT:  Have you seen the modes organized by their supposed respective darkness or brightness?  Lydian is supposedly the brightest mode on the scale.

 

yes, did u read 20th century harmony?

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1 minute ago, Left Unexplained said:

yes, did u read 20th century harmony?

That might have been the book I randomly picked up in the bookstore I mentioned in the original post of this thread but don't quote me on that.  Does it have a discussion of modes and cross-relations in it?

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As an aside to some of my above statements about writing in the variations form too much - I think it can be used as a crutch because writing in sonata form or binary or ternary form requires one to write more transitions.  In variations, it seems like transitions can be avoided since at the end of each variation one can just pause and start the next one.  Although if one takes a more organic approach to the variations they might also require transitions and it's always possible to come up with transitional variations of the theme as well.

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