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Elegy in F minor, Op. 13, for Cello and piano


Theodore Servin
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The Elegy in F minor was written in 2020. It is my second duet, since my Fantasy in G minor for violin and piano, Op. 4. The piece is about 14 minutes long, and contains 2 themes. This performance is a remote recording, and the cellist playing is JonathanCello from Fiverr, who recorded a few of my previous chamber works.

https://www.fiverr.com/jonathancello/do-session-cellist-for-your-musical-project?context_referrer=user_page&ref_ctx_id=d3f44413-d69e-4a0f-8b73-8ace49eedd1c&pckg_id=1&pos=1

 

As always, I hope you all enjoy ūüôā

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I enjoyed your un-traditional linearly derived harmonies in this piece which were very effective at conveying some dark emotions especially once the cello came in and took over the thematic material.  Somehow you still manage to stay in a specific key as you seem to return to that key despite many chromatic detractions from the tonality.  If I am not mistaken some of your harmonic ideas can be more easily understood through the technique of "harmonic relativity" where two chords are related to one another not through functional analysis but through understanding their quality and chromatic distance from eachother and whether or not they have any tones in common.  The particular relations between two chords can give a very unique feeling depending on which two chords one chooses of course.  I love the development that you start at 9:13 - it is not entirely a logical choice given the previous melodic material which makes it a kind of elaboration I guess.  Then you kind of meld the two ideas together at 10:31 which is always a great lucid moment in a work when two ideas are combined.  At 11:34 you seem to introduce fresh material at the climax which is unexpected.  Using that new material to close the piece off peacefully is a nice touch.  The piece starts very dark but ends solemn.  Great job and thanks for sharing!  Great performances by both you and the cellist!

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Thanks for commenting, @PaperComposer! I'm glad you enjoyed the piece and the performance!

10 hours ago, PaperComposer said:

I enjoyed your un-traditional linearly derived harmonies in this piece which were very effective at conveying some dark emotions especially once the cello came in and took over the thematic material.  Somehow you still manage to stay in a specific key as you seem to return to that key despite many chromatic detractions from the tonality.  If I am not mistaken some of your harmonic ideas can be more easily understood through the technique of "harmonic relativity" where two chords are related to one another not through functional analysis but through understanding their quality and chromatic distance from eachother and whether or not they have any tones in common.  The particular relations between two chords can give a very unique feeling depending on which two chords one chooses of course.

I'm glad you found the harmonic progressions interesting! I think I've heard of this technique, under the name "Neo-Riemannian Theory", where seemingly-distant harmonies can be found to be related to the tonic, without necessarily referencing it. While I wasn't really thinking about this technique while writing the piece (as I mostly chose these harmonic progressions for their emotional qualities), I guess I can also take pride in providing an interesting piece for analytical study!

10 hours ago, PaperComposer said:

At 11:34 you seem to introduce fresh material at the climax which is unexpected.  Using that new material to close the piece off peacefully is a nice touch.

I'm glad you liked the climax and closure! Though I should mention this theme appears earlier in the piece, at around 6:00; this is actually the second theme I was referring to in the description.

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Very interesting piece. Distant harmonies, I've seen those used a lot for emotional quality and modulation, especially from Chopin onwards, but even Beethoven does it. I hear these keys in the piece:

  • F minor
  • C minor
  • Bb minor
  • C# minor
  • A major(brief glimpses)
  • Eb major towards 5:00
  • Ab major
  • E major(brief glimpses)
  • B minor or F# minor, not sure which
  • F major towards the end

And if I were to relate all these back to F minor, this is what I would get:

  • Tonic
  • Minor Dominant
  • Subdominant
  • #v¬† Chromatic mediant
  • #III Chromatic mediant
  • Subtonic(could also be viewed as the Relative major of the Minor Dominant)
  • Relative major
  • #VII
  • Minor tritone axis or #i
  • Parallel major

Only about half of what I hear harmonically is in any way closely related to F minor and the rest is at a minimum chromatic mediant distant and at a maximum tritone axis distant. I have used this tritone axis relation before to go from sharps to flats quickly while staying in minor. My March of Iwo Jima piece uses this exact relation in its development section where I go from a somber F# minor that develops the second theme via canon to an intense C minor that builds the motive of the first theme into a full orchestral fortissimo in the space of a single diminished seventh harmony, because vii¬į7 of F# minor and vii¬į7 of C minor are enharmonically equivalent.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Damn this is good. A deeply emotional piece that had me enthralled from beginning to end. I loved every minute of this, and I'm not even a fan of chamber music. Nice work!

You truly have a mastery of the harmonic language of the late romantic era, would you mind breaking down some of the techniques you used? For example, during the first minute or so you clearly establish F minor as the home key, then venture off to many foreign harmonies before returning to F minor right before the cello enters. Would you mind breaking down what chords you used and how you came up with them?

As far as constructive feedback I don't know that I have much to offer. The piece is great as it is and I don't see any real weak spots. The only thing I'll point out is it seems like the first theme is given alot more emphasis than the second theme. Specifically, the first theme takes up the entire first six minutes of the piece, with the second theme first appearing around the 5:55 mark and lasting until about 8:30, when the first theme returns. After this, the second theme doesn't return until 11:33, lasting only until 11:50, and it appears once more from 12:38-13:33. So the second theme only gets 4 minutes out of a 14.5 minute piece, while the first theme gets more time than that it it's first statement. Maybe this is your intention, and if so that's fine, just my thought from a few listen-throughs.

I also had a few questions about how you made the audio. Did you record yourself playing a live piano, or did you use a vst? Also, did the cellist record himself in a hall, or did he record dry and add an artificial reverb? From a mix standpoint, it definitely sounds like the two of you are in different rooms. You can tell at the beginning that is sounds like you are playing in a small intimate space, then when the cellist comes in it sounds like he is in a much larger space. As a result it sounds like the piano is right in front while the cello is farther away. If it were me, I might try to mix it so it sounds like the cello is close to the front (since he is the soloist) and the piano is a little farther back. This is purely my subjective thoughts, it sounds wonderful as it is.

One more thing I might add is the pizzicato in the cello near the end was a little "boomy", and the last note was not quite together. Other than that, a spectacular performance from both of you.

Thanks for sharing!

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Posted (edited)
On 3/5/2021 at 10:16 PM, gmm said:

Damn this is good. A deeply emotional piece that had me enthralled from beginning to end. I loved every minute of this, and I'm not even a fan of chamber music. Nice work!

Hey, thank you so much, @gmm! I'm really glad you liked it!

On 3/5/2021 at 10:16 PM, gmm said:

You truly have a mastery of the harmonic language of the late romantic era, would you mind breaking down some of the techniques you used? For example, during the first minute or so you clearly establish F minor as the home key, then venture off to many foreign harmonies before returning to F minor right before the cello enters. Would you mind breaking down what chords you used and how you came up with them?

Thank you! I'll try to break the harmonies down for you:

F minor -A maj7 (4/3) - [harmonies repeat] - A minor (6) - B dom7 - [harmonies repeat] - G minor (6) - A dom7 - F minor (6) - G dom7 - E-flat minor (6) - F dom7 (root pos., then 4/2) - B-flat minor (6) - F dom7 (4/3) - B-flat minor - B-flat min7 (4/2) - G half-dim - A maj7 (6/5) - C aug7 - F minor

I'm sure there are extra things that can be added, like suspended notes in the right hand, but I didn't feel like adding those here.

Unfortunately, there's no real way for me to explain how I came up with these harmonic progressions, because like I said to PeterthePapercomPoser, I mostly chose them for their emotional qualities. I was trying to compose something very deep and heavy, and these harmonies sort of provided themselves to me. I guess it may help to say some inspiration came from the music of Franck, who utilizes harmonies similar to the ones I chose here.

On 3/5/2021 at 10:16 PM, gmm said:

As far as constructive feedback I don't know that I have much to offer. The piece is great as it is and I don't see any real weak spots. The only thing I'll point out is it seems like the first theme is given alot more emphasis than the second theme. Specifically, the first theme takes up the entire first six minutes of the piece, with the second theme first appearing around the 5:55 mark and lasting until about 8:30, when the first theme returns. After this, the second theme doesn't return until 11:33, lasting only until 11:50, and it appears once more from 12:38-13:33. So the second theme only gets 4 minutes out of a 14.5 minute piece, while the first theme gets more time than that it it's first statement. Maybe this is your intention, and if so that's fine, just my thought from a few listen-throughs.

I was considering that. However, I couldn't really see a way I could make both melodies be proportionate in terms of runtime in a way that would sound genuine and emotional; also the piece already ended up being almost 15 minutes long, and I didn't want it to be any longer than it needed to be.

On 3/5/2021 at 10:16 PM, gmm said:

I also had a few questions about how you made the audio. Did you record yourself playing a live piano, or did you use a vst? Also, did the cellist record himself in a hall, or did he record dry and add an artificial reverb? From a mix standpoint, it definitely sounds like the two of you are in different rooms. You can tell at the beginning that is sounds like you are playing in a small intimate space, then when the cellist comes in it sounds like he is in a much larger space. As a result it sounds like the piano is right in front while the cello is farther away. If it were me, I might try to mix it so it sounds like the cello is close to the front (since he is the soloist) and the piano is a little farther back. This is purely my subjective thoughts, it sounds wonderful as it is.

One more thing I might add is the pizzicato in the cello near the end was a little "boomy", and the last note was not quite together. Other than that, a spectacular performance from both of you.

I made the piano recording using an electric piano. The cellist, I'm presuming, made his recording in his office at his house/apartment. He later added a very rich reverb, which sounded way better than the more intimate-sounding ones I had on my software (though I suppose I could have used his reverb for my piano recording). I guess I could have could have used it for both recordings, though I thought it sounded fine as it was. I'll definitely consider this for future recordings!

Those last pizzicato notes are definitely "boomy", to be sure. However, this is after lowering their volume substantially, and they were originally even louder; I was worried that lowering the volume further would damage the quality of the recording.

Edited by Theodore Servin
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  • 3 months later...

The first five minutes of this piece is the most moving writing I've ever heard on this forum. I'm not easily impressed, and I've been coming here since the early 2000s. It is sensational writing, and you are a sensational talent.

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3 hours ago, pianist_1981 said:

The first five minutes of this piece is the most moving writing I've ever heard on this forum. I'm not easily impressed, and I've been coming here since the early 2000s. It is sensational writing, and you are a sensational talent.

This is the best thing I've read today... thank you so much!!

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