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Seven Sorrows


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Henry Ng Tsz Kiu
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This was the first large work I wrote and does not reflect my current abilities. I started writing it in September 2019 and finished in January 2021. I'm posting it here because I'd like to make a revised and fully orchestrated version in the future and need some feedback for that.

The piece is programmatic with 7 movements, an introduction, and a finale. I will share the intended the program in case there are better ways of depicting them.

The introduction serves no programmatic purpose, but does introduce the most important motif, the four descending notes. The first movement is the Prophesy of Simeon and for its structure I state material and then stick that into a slower section in an attempt to imitate questions and wise answers. After the final answer is a musical "pierce" since Simeon says that Mary's heart will be pierced by a sword of sorrow. The movement closes sadly, foreshadowing the fifth movement.

The second movement is the Flight into Egypt. In the story, an angel warns Joseph of King Herod's intent to kill Jesus, so they flee through the harsh desert to Egypt. The music reflects that with a slow beginning and then an agitated theme in a mode. Then, for when they arrive and live peacefully in Egypt, there is a calm hymn-like theme. A fugue transitions to repeat the angel section from the beginning, as an Angel tells them they are to return since Herod is dead. The agitated desert theme resumes and when they make it back, a very important theme plays, closing the second movement.

The third movement is the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple. The movement begins calmly with the theme that ended the previous movement, as in the program, Mary and Joseph are walking home without the knowledge of Jesus being left behind. The structure of the rest of the movement is a series of 3 marches for the 3 days they spent look for Jesus. The movement closes with the hymn-like theme.

The fourth movement is Mary's Meeting Jesus on the Via Dolorosa. This is the movement I dislike the most. The idea was for it to be in kind of an arch form, for I imagined Mary in the crowd watching Jesus come into view, walk past, and then leave her view. I don't think it worked particularly well, especially with how repetitively I use the main theme.

The fifth movement is the Crucifixion. I begin it slowly with three points of the "pierce" chord from the first movement, for the three nails attaching him to the cross. Immediately after the third nail is a dissonant variation of the theme from the fourth movement. Then, a mediocre fugue on that same theme, which leads into a slowed down repeat of the end of the first movement with more voices, for the death of Jesus.

The sixth movement is the Piercing of Christ's Side and His Descent from the Cross. The music starts quiet and relatively still. Then a spear is thrown, so to reflect that, I have flying-ish music. The "pierce" chord plays again but is transformed into consonance with waterfall-like arpeggios, for when the spear pierces his side and blood and water spill out. Then the hymn-like theme plays. To close, the quiet music repeats, but slowly descends, for Jesus being taken down.

The seventh movement is the Burial of Jesus, and is in ABA form, imitating funeral marches. Afterward, is the Finale. I have 2 unresolved suspended chords, and then 1 resolved for Jesus returning on the third day. Then, after the greatest build-up I've ever written, the theme which ended the second movement returns, closing the piece.

Welp, that's the whole piece. Again, it does not reflect my current style, and I don't think it as particularly good, though I am still proud of it. Feedback is welcome, of course.

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I've just listened the 1st movement!

I love the arrangement of the strings. The melody is more in the alto range, that's why there are two viola parts I guess? Even the violin plays more in its low register.

Personally I think the introduction b.1-25 quite repetitive and direct. For me it does not prepare well to the main sections.

I think adding a timpani for b.70-71 would be great. I absolutely enjoy the build up to the climax!

When the double bass melody begins in b.146, the soundtrack does not give justice to the it, as the volume of the violas are higher.

Personally I think the transition to the Presto Agitato section quite abrupt, and the tempo is not quite fast enough for me to be called Presto. It ends well in the Picardy third!

i think it's the handling of the material the issue here. For me the material is not fully developed here as it gives a somewhat repetitive feeling here, if I am too nitpicky to say that! The building to climax like those in b.70 is great, but in other sections I feel like it's changed only in key. (Please forgive me to say this!) Maybe because most of the time the melody is in middle to low register, so the attention is not sought I guess? But after all it's just the introduction so what I said may be irrelevant to the whole piece! I must be too nitpicky and I have to apologize for that!!😭

I will definitely listen to the later movements and may change my opinion towards the introduction! Thanks for sharing this massive work here, Jonathon!

Henry

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I started with the second movement. My first caveat is where are the second violins???? You have a very mid to low heavy ensemble here -which would be fine if you utilized the upper registers of the celli and viola (though be mindful the A string can be quite nasal at times). 

Also, you might want to add in some other instruments during that long 8th note passage between viola and cello.... I can almost feel my fingertips bleed.

Musically, I think you have some awesome ideas. The midi doesn't quite do this justice with the timbral quality -which real strings would be able to make these low passages really sing.

All in all, decent movement.

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OK I have listened o several movements, but to follow the order, I'll say something about the third.

In all, it has a nice profound mood. Perhaps thematically is recurrent, which is not bad, except for the texture that is very similar all over the piece.

The timpani is in a very low range (which I think is possible with a big drum), but having in mind that there is a dominance of the low registers (contrabasses, etc...) in some parts the sound is a bit distorted.

The whole work is a big and amazing one.

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Henry Ng Tsz Kiu
This post was recognized by Henry Ng Tsz Kiu!

"What an effort you have paid to review fellow member's massive work! Greatly appreciated!"

Thatguy v2.0 was awarded the badge 'Keen Ear' and 5 points.

Jesus, that's a lot of music! (like my pun? lol) I'm not sure how to begin, so I'll just ramble for a bit. This will probably come across a little random, but hopefully you find some value in my thoughts.

So I listened to the whole thing, first of all. I really wanted to get your overall impression rather than dissecting this one movement at a time. I'm honestly glad I did it that way, because your piece is very programmatic which you stated. You constantly bring back themes or perhaps leitmotifs, which I thought was very fitting for the content. 

After hearing it in its entirety, your piece fell victim to something I predicted when first hearing it. There's lots of sadness and despair to the theme, and even though there can be some moments of joy and redemption, I felt like it would be very hard to capture the mood for an hour of interesting music. Overall, it's a very constant grave/lento tempo throughout, and it was hard to keep interested at times. One thing you could maybe do to enhance the general shape of the music is to have a lot more sections of faster tempos, or maybe more sections with lots of movement in the textures. I know you give us moments of that (mvt. 2 cellos and violas, mvt. 3, but still a walking pace, mvt. 7 with the builds), but I don't think it was enough for an hour long piece. Even if the program element might not literally call for that, I think the music needs it. 

You probably already know this, but the textures are very lacking. There are lots of tutti and block chords. I strongly encourage you when you begin orchestrating to constantly think of the overall texture. Really think about the instrument groups, the amount of color at your disposal, solo and duet passages, etc. I purposely don't want to give any thoughts on how I would orchestrate any of it, I think that would take away from the fun you'll have when doing so. Just be creative with it is all I mean. Even the several spots where you repeat a theme, really think about the different ways to execute that. 

The registers were very consistently on the low end of things as well. Vary that up too! You can still paint the picture of a solemn atmosphere by really exploring the instrument ranges as well. I know this version isn't your final vision of the piece, but many of the bass parts could have been given to another cello part instead. Also the 2nd viola going to the violin. Yes you were going for that darker color, but, and especially with the bass, it really sounds muddy with the split parts. 

You may not like this, but a suggestion I have for you is to nix the idea of the full orchestra and make this for string quartet or another chamber ensemble. For one, it would be much easier to finish a work you have written over the last several years, and you could really learn a ton by giving yourself the restriction in instrumentation to fully utilize the strings. There's a lot of articulations and technique for strings that you didn't use, and maybe it could be a cool opportunity to explore that. There's bowing, pizzicato, glissando, harmonics, and a gazillion other ways to give color for the strings that would be fun to try out. 

HOWEVER...I know you're very passionate about the material, and this piece is probably very close to your heart, so I'm not saying don't orchestrate it. If that's your goal, that by all means go for it. I'd love to hear this orchestrated. I just would hate for you to spend so much time on a piece without venturing on to new music. You seem to really love orchestral music, so yeah man, do it if it's a major goal for you 🙂

Now, with all that said, I'd like to share some things I really liked about this. My favorite part is the theme at the end of mvt. 2 and brought back in mvt. 7. I love those chords, the harmony is very moving and speaks to my soul. Also, in mvt. 4, around 2:20 and done again later is a really cool section, I just wish it was longer! 

Mvt. 5 was very cool, I loved the slow chords with the solo bass. Awesome sound, just make sure to add little bits of color, or texture, or movement over the chords, because after a while it tends to get stale. But the idea is very cool, reminds me of something Shostakovich would do. Mvt. 6 had some cool chromatic lines, I really liked that. Again though, think of ways to vary up either the color or the groupings as it wears on me after a while. 

While I'm thinking of the timpani, also I'd think about what other percussive devices you could use in this. Just remember it's 2023, I'd take full advantage of exploring all of the different options you have in percussion as you go about orchestrating. 

So in general, congratulations on creating such a behemoth work. I myself have never written anything that long, so kudos to you for being able to see this one through the end. Hopefully I didn't come off as too critical. Yes I feel like this needs a bit of work, especially in your pacing and textures, but I feel like you got the hard part out of the way. You already know all of your themes and harmonies, now you really get to have a lot of fun bringing this more to life by being creative in your orchestration. I'm very curious how this will turn out, definitely let me know once you're completely done if I happen to miss it. 

Thanks again for sharing!

 

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Just one observation.

I agree with the comprehensive review by @Thatguy v2.0

I think that the dark mood of the piece, that fits with the idea, goes a bit far. The use of the lowest register and the lack of other instruments makes the work linear.

I remember a work by Philip Glass, his opera Akhnaten, in which he wanted a dark sound, and there are no violins in the orchestra. But he uses many other instruments as a contrast.

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I've just listened to the second movement. I enjoy the programmatic elements in it as the passages are contrasted with interesting passages. I love the yearning in Egyptian style in b.42-53 and b.198-206. 

I sometimes lose my way in the galloping sections. With the programmatic elements I don't find it a drawback at all, but rather think it greatly depicts the scene!

I feel like the materials themselves are interesting, but somewhat repetitive. However I don't really know about the story deeply so I won't say it's a bad thing to have the repititions! B.147-153 seems too short for me. I may develop it a bit longer since it's different from the previous sections with its contrapuntal nature, and it will add a great contrast to the movement!

Does the A mode implies the Angel?😆

The ending B major chroale is gorgeous. After the relentless galloping, yearning and moaning, it appears so magnificent here. Really nice contrast. I see in Vince's comment that it will recur in mov. 7 and I hope I will remember this detail!

Thanks for sharing!

Henry

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I've just listened to the third movement. I love this movement more than the first two! For me the overall atmosphere, theme and structure are more uniform here. I feel there are more emotions in it. I like how you transform that opening theme in different keys. Subjectively for me the theme can be transformed and developed with more varied treatment, since I find the theme changes mostly in the key. I don't know much of the biblical story, but I guess during those 3 days there were different types of things happening, instead of the same searching in 3 days. I think you can just add more different variation of the main theme to it like a variation movement or even Wagner's use of leitmotives here, as it can signify the change but still cohere the whole movement! The ending is quite unexpected for me, as I think the key change quite abrupt. I see that you want to link this with the latter movement which is in D minor, but I think the ending D major here can be prepared with more time and last a bit longer to achieve the effect!

Thanks for sharing!

Henry

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I actually love the sections filles with semibreves since the harmonic progression is very good and varied!

I love the theme in b.97 as it provides good contrast.

I love the imitation of the main theme in b.142. Finally there's some notable changes!

I love the adagio section. I feel like your orchestration power works here! I can feel the tragedy in it. The ending is coherent  using the opening material.

On 1/14/2023 at 4:47 AM, ComposaBoi said:

This is the movement I dislike the most. The idea was for it to be in kind of an arch form, for I imagined Mary in the crowd watching Jesus come into view, walk past, and then leave her view. I don't think it worked particularly well, especially with how repetitively I use the main theme.

You shouldn't dislike it. (Even though I often do this myself). It's just the repeition of the themes seems a little bit off. Sometimes change of key doesn't give us new impressions of the theme if used too frequently. You can change the texture, give the melody to other instruments and chop the melody to different parts, which you know how to do that now!

Thanks for sharing and I have finally reached the half point of this massive work!

Henry

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I've listened to the fifth movement. I want to say I love this movement!

The opening section depicts the crucifixtion well. The long chords signifies the long dread of dying, and the ff chords scare my sxxt out! Really great depiction hete.

The love the theme in b.52, variation of the theme of 4th mov, but I find the transition to b.68 abrupt, and the agitation in b.77 appears quite sudden for me.

I won't say the fugue mediocre, you just need time to learn the counterpoint, and here it's a four part one so it won't be easy to write, and I think at least it achieve the chasing effect of a fugue! However I find the modulation to F sharl minor too abrupt. The build up to the hymn doesn't convince me, probably since there are no crescendos there, but the hymn itself is utterly beautiful! The pathos, transfiguration is so beautiful here! I think to achieve this the fugue's problem can be ignored! Though I find the ending abrupt by suddenly ending on D major. But overall I love this movemnt! I think you successfully create sounds you want to depict the scenes more than the previous movements. 

Thanks for sharing!

Henry

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Now for the penultimate movement! The themes are very memorable for me after listening to this for a few days. I can recall the main theme in fourth movement, piercing chord and hymn tune!

I am wondering why you don't use a different key signature, since there are many accidentals here and the A major/F sharp minor is never tonicized here.

I love this movement for its succinctness. I think the motives and themes presented here prevent the redundancies as in previous movements, and they combined in a great way. The ideas of descending as reflected in the melody is good and creative.

Thanks for sharing and looking forward to the final movement!

Henry

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Finally for the final movement!!

That timpani is a banger for me. The march seems repetitive but it's a funeral march so I definitely don't mind this. Great atmosphere here.

The rest in b.30 seems a little bit off for me but I love the modulation to F minor. I always love this kind of octatonic relationship. 

The rest in b. 36 also seems a bit off for me. I would probably fill up the bar to bridge the two sections!

Now I see why you keep the timpani hitting the D. The largo section begins in D minor and ends in D major! The theme in Fourth movement reappears in b.21! I don't feel redundant this time but find it beautiful after all those marches! The four notes motive as well!

You should be really proud of the build up and the climax. I almost cry when hearing that. The power inside it is tremendous, especially at the end of this giant piece!! From b.37 I probably will not add slurs for the basses though, and instead use accents and non legato for them. What a great ending for the piece!! 

Jonathon, thanks for presenting your giant work here! Maybe I am too nitpicky sometimes but you for sure have the talent and technique. This power displayed in some of the passages, esp. the one in the last movement, tells me that you have the ability to write very good music. For me you can always improve on your technique, but the horizon and power behind it is hard to learn, and you have shown us that great potential! Having this courage and scope to write a gigantic piece is not easy, and you achieve this. I am sure we all have improvements and always have, but by writing this you will learn most, since writing a long one is different from a short one! It's not your current work finished, so what I say may be irrelevant to the present you! Hope that you will continue to produce music like this and share it here!

Henry

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Hey man, nice work, and congrats on such a big achievement! I've listened to just the first movement so far. Overall I like the dark atmosphere it creates, and the melodies are quite nice. I like how the melody is traded between the upper and lower voices, with the supporting voices playing a varied accompaniment each time.

I will echo some of the other comments that say it feels a bit repetitive. There are several sections where the same 8 bars or so repeat several times, and it gets a bit tiring. The way to improve it, I think, would be to vary the dynamics and/or orchestration to help build more dramatic tension. I don't think it's so much that the same melody repeats, as much as it is that it's not varying in some way. For example, when the violins reenter at M. 107, maybe have the overall ensemble get louder each repetition, or after a few times bring them up an octave. Another idea would be to add a counter melody after a few repetitions (in my head I hear an eighth-note pattern in the violas that underlays the melody... or something like that).

Speaking of the violins, I'm curious about the instrumentation. It seems unusual that the violas are the primary voice, and the violins are resting for about half of the piece or so. Especially since a lot of the viola part is in a very comfortable register for the violin... Was there any reason in particular the violins have such a small part?

And I do also thing the ending is very sudden. The whole piece is very slow and calm, then out of nowhere: loud sforzando note. Maybe find a way to prepare this better?

Overall it is a nice listen! I hope I can find time to listen to the other movements.

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On 1/13/2023 at 11:31 PM, jawoodruff said:

My first caveat is where are the second violins???? You have a very mid to low heavy ensemble here

Yeah, so there are two reasons why I did this. 1. I wanted a lower ensemble because I thought it would give it a darker sound. Really, I think it just made it muddy lol. 2. I didn't know there was a standard string arrangement, but I was 14 when I wrote most of this, so I didn't really know much about that yet.

On 1/13/2023 at 11:31 PM, jawoodruff said:

Also, you might want to add in some other instruments during that long 8th note passage between viola and cello

I agree, I hadn't really thought about performers getting tired at the time.

On 1/13/2023 at 11:31 PM, jawoodruff said:

Musically, I think you have some awesome ideas. The midi doesn't quite do this justice with the timbral quality -which real strings would be able to make these low passages really sing.

Thank you. I definitely think real string would have more clarity, but I still think it would be too muddy.

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On 1/14/2023 at 5:11 AM, Luis Hernández said:

In all, it has a nice profound mood. Perhaps thematically is recurrent, which is not bad, except for the texture that is very similar all over the piece.

Yes. The goal was for it to be thematically recurrent, almost like leitmotifs, but I do agree that the texture is too similar throughout, and it definitely needs some more contrast.

On 1/14/2023 at 5:11 AM, Luis Hernández said:

The timpani is in a very low range (which I think is possible with a big drum), but having in mind that there is a dominance of the low registers (contrabasses, etc...) in some parts the sound is a bit distorted.

I will definitely keep that in mind.

On 1/15/2023 at 2:19 PM, Luis Hernández said:

I think that the dark mood of the piece, that fits with the idea, goes a bit far. The use of the lowest register and the lack of other instruments makes the work linear.

I remember a work by Philip Glass, his opera Akhnaten, in which he wanted a dark sound, and there are no violins in the orchestra. But he uses many other instruments as a contrast.

For sure. As I said earlier, it needs more contrast. I might do a quick study of Akhnaten to get some inspiration for writing darker music. I will say, the original vision was for the piece to just be for string orchestra, because I wanted to learn how to write for strings better, so I didn't really want to add winds or brass initially. Hence the lack of other, probably better suited, instruments. It will definitely be more interesting timbrally with a full orchestra.

Thank you for your feedback.

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On 1/24/2023 at 6:18 PM, gmm said:

it feels a bit repetitive. There are several sections where the same 8 bars or so repeat several times, and it gets a bit tiring. The way to improve it, I think, would be to vary the dynamics and/or orchestration to help build more dramatic tension. I don't think it's so much that the same melody repeats, as much as it is that it's not varying in some way. For example, when the violins reenter at M. 107, maybe have the overall ensemble get louder each repetition, or after a few times bring them up an octave. Another idea would be to add a counter melody after a few repetitions (in my head I hear an eighth-note pattern in the violas that underlays the melody... or something like that).

I think it is repetitive myself and I appreciate your suggestions and will consider them.

On 1/24/2023 at 6:18 PM, gmm said:

It seems unusual that the violas are the primary voice, and the violins are resting for about half of the piece or so. Especially since a lot of the viola part is in a very comfortable register for the violin... Was there any reason in particular the violins have such a small part?

As I’ve told jawoodruff, the reasons for arranging the strings that way are that I wanted a particular sound and I didn’t know there was a standard string arrangement.

On 1/24/2023 at 6:18 PM, gmm said:

And I do also thing the ending is very sudden. The whole piece is very slow and calm, then out of nowhere: loud sforzando note. Maybe find a way to prepare this better?

My intention was for it to be sudden, but I’ve noticed that more than one person expressed it as an issue which must mean my intention wasn’t clear. I’m unsure exactly how I would make this suddenness feel purposeful, though. I’m sure I’ll figure something out. Thanks for the feedback too.

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