I actually began working on Ella Wheeler Wilcox's "Solitude" on Friday, but did not have enough written to post. This afternoon I finally was able to get some time to work again. I thought I'd discuss my composing technique in more detail as beginning a piece is usually the most difficult part of composing. The problems arise not so much from getting the original idea, but from knowing where to go after you get the idea.
My original idea came easily as I wanted to compose a pastorale. I selected a moderately slow 9/8 meter and decided to use a clarinet melody to create the mood. The three measure clarinet melody is the result. I next tried to think of how I would harmonize the melody. Very rarely do I use block chords for harmony. I feel that harmony is much more interesting if it is rhythmically motivated and if each voice (part) is allowed to find its own direction from a voice leading standpoint. You will notice that the first time the piano enters is during the sustained clarinet note. It enters arpeggiated with each part sustaining. I then continued with the piano left hand creating a single line that is in contrary motion to the clarinet. The right hand continues the arpeggiation but this time with more rapid chord change. The pattern of sustained chord and arpeggiation continues and alternates bewtween the hands. By the third measure, the right hand of the piano becomes a single line picking up on the two 16th and quarter note motif from the 2nd measure of the clarinet melody. When I am working in a section like the first 3 measures, I work on one hand at a time, find something I like for a beat or two, and then work on the other hand. I try not to get one hand too far ahead of the other as either part can suggest what comes next. When I am at a point when both parts are together, I proceed with the part that seems to be moving onward.
After the three measure introduction, I then composed the vocal line for four measures. Once again, I am trying to involve the audience. The piano part has less of the sustained arpeggiation of the introduction as it has some blocked chords and single lines in alternation. The idea for the 16th note arpeggio in measure 4 came from the audience's laugh but actually occurs before the audience laughs. This is an illustration of how one part can suggest what to use in another part. The two 16th and quarter note motif is still being used but it is transformed into tw0 16ths and two 8ths. I bring in the flute for color variety with the pickups to m. 8 and the clarinet laughs on the word mirth in m. 9. Lastly, the clarinet rounds out the setting of the first three lines by repeating the last measure of the vocal line with a slight variation. The accompaniment also varies its repetition.
I hope that this detailed discussion will illustrate to performers and listeners how intricate the composing process is. It is difficult to discover all these nuances, but as one studies the piece, they should become more apparent on either the conscious or subconscious level. I hope that composers will pick up some ideas on how to work with their material while composing.
To see and hear what is discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/fourpoemsblog.html