Hello again to my readers. I am now back home from vacation and even though I haven't posted in a while because of my travels, I have been working on Regal Variation fairly regularly. I have now completed four variations and have one to go. Instead to talking in detail about each variation, I thought I'd address some thoughts that I had while working on this piece. I will refer to each variation as illustrations of my thoughts.
I'd like to begin with a general observation regarding variation form. One of the interesting things about a set of variations is that the further one goes into the piece, the farther removed the variations are from the theme. This is what is happening in my Regal Variations. The first variation uses motives that are very clearly derived from the theme. The second variation begins with a 7/8 accompanying idea that is not theme related before using a transformation of m. 13-17 of the theme. Interestingly, the accompanying idea takes on a life of its own and almost seems like a theme itself. The third variation only uses the descending perfect fourth of the beginning of the theme and then it is off to develop as my ear sees fit. There are no other deliberate uses of the theme in this variation. Variation four uses the melodic intervals of the theme, but the rhythm and tempo are so dramatic changed from the theme that this relationship is difficult to perceive.
This discussion leads me into something I have discussed before; the importance of composers relying on their ear rather than emphasizing construction. Craftmanship is important in any composition, but the ear must always guide that craftmanship. I found myself getting into that trap a few times while composing some of these variations. For example, when I began variation three, I was trying consciously to use motives and intervals from the theme. But this was not working, so I switched to just letting my ear tell me where the music wanted to go. There may be some relationships to the theme that have subconsciously slipped in, as this usually happens when one is living and breathing the material, but I hope the music sounds freely composed rather than contrived.
I also like to discuss my use of key signatures and time signatures. I usually find an opening time signature that works for my initial idea. I change time signatures as needed to help with the placement of accents and cadences, but a lot of times that is misleading as my music is very contrapuntal and one part may line up while the other one does not. A good example is in variation 2. The 7/8 accompaniment idea from the beginning carries through in measures 6 & 7, but these measures are written in 9/8 to accommodate the flute melody while the clarinet part is a hemiola 7/8. It looks awkward in the 9/8, but it should have the same uneven beat feel as the beginning. This type of thing happens a lot in this variation and less often in the other variations. With key signatures, I usually start out with no key signature. After I have composed for awhile, I try to find a key signature that works best for ease of reading by eliminating a lot of accidentals. Sometimes, this lines up with the tonality and sometimes it does not. My music changes tonal center and modality often therefore making key signature something that is used for ease of reading more than an indication of tonality.
The other thing that I was giving much thought to while driving and while composing is the importance of "subtlety" in art and in life. I believe that all good art uses "subtlety". Subtlety is something that is implied rather than overtly stated. For example, in Regal Variations, variation 3, I recapitulate the opening measures at measure 21. The tonality is now G instead of F and the flute is now the lead voice and the clarinet the follower. Later on the theme contains some dotted eighths and sixteenths for variety. What may appear on first hearing as a repetition of the opening, is really a subtle variation within that repetition that adds interest while at the same time serves as a unifying factor. This is one of the beauties of art, because it enables the appreciator to always find something new to appreciate. Popular music emphasizes immediate appeal over subtlety. It is less complex and therefore more repetitive. Pop music serves its purpose, but I argue that the arts are an essential part of our humanity and an essential part of education. Without the arts and arts education, it is difficult to people to learn to perceive and appreciate subtlety and subtlety is an essential part of communication. Can you imagine how many less fights a couple would have if the partner was able to understand what is not said by observing differences in the tone of voice and facial expressions? Expand this to other forms of communication and you can understand why the arts are essential in our lives.
I once again invite my readers to comment on or question anything I say. I will not publish your response without first obtaining your permission. All replies are monitored by myself before the appear in this blog.
To see and hear what I have composed thus far, go to http://www.cooppress.net/regalvariationsblog.html
The score is in concert pitch.