Welcome to my blog

I have created this site in order to provide performers, listeners and composers with a description of a composer's experiences with the creative process. The posts will provide discussions of the inspirations, challenges, and successes of a composer from the inception of the piece to the culmination in performance. I will provide a link to where you can see and hear the works in progress. Comments and questions are always welcomed. They will not posted unless you grant me permission.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Interplay Movement 3

I was recently sent a link to a story about a music prodigy, Jay Greenburg, who has the ability to hear an entire composition in his head completely scored and all he needs to do is to notate it. That process can take him around two hours. I compare this to how I compose, especially during the composition of Interplay, and we are not even in the same league. My process involves getting an idea, seeing where it wants to go, wondering where it is going to lead me, writing a measure or two at a time, filling in other parts, reviewing what I have written often, and making changes to what I have written earlier based upon what has come after it. When the composition is completed, I'm amazed at its balance, direction, craftmanship, cohesiveness, and variety, because it certainly doesn't feel that way during the composing process.

I mention all this because while I am pleased with the results of Interplay, it felt like a struggle almost the entire time. In fact, once the third movement was completed, I made a few minor changes to the other two movements.

The third movement actually came a little easier than the previous two because of my approach to the interplay. Instead of relying heavily on counterpoint between the instruments, this movement is more of an interplay between sections of the piece and its instrumental color. I set out to write a Rondo and wanted the movement to be lighter in nature to contrast the more serious nature of the first two movements. The movement is sort of a Rondo, but took on a life of its own.

The movement begins with a two-measure bassoon introduction that establishes the meter changes and uneven meter feel that will be used as the basis of humor in the movement. It is answered by a four-measure tuba and piano section that changes between 2/4 and 3/8. These measures continue to alternate with the bassoon melody establishing the A section (measures 7-34). At measure 21, the piano and bassoon play the idea in imitation.

The B section goes from measure 35 - 54 and also has an uneven meter feel but in a different pattern. The tuba has the B theme first and then it goes to the bassoon.

The A section returns in measures 55 - 83 with a different scoring; piano first then bassoon.

Measure 84 ushers in the C section mostly in 3/8 but with occasional different meters inserted. It is more lyrical than the other two previous sections and the melody is a three-phrase group. The melody and harmony contain both 4ths and 3rds. The three-phrase group repeats two more times, each time with instrumentation changes, increasing counterpoint, and more intensity of dynamics. It climaxes at measure 147 before transitioning back to the B section instead of the expected A section of the Rondo. It is followed by A, therefore creating almost an arch form (ABACBA). At measure 200, the C section returns with even more counterpoint than its original statement. The Coda gives us a hint of the A section before fading away into silence that is broken by a loud final chord.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/interplay_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interplay Movement 2

While I am please with the second movement, it was once again a piece that did not flow easily from beginning to end. While the ideas came easily enough, the needed a lot of editing to help the movement flow.

This movement is in three sections creating an ABA' form. The B section is divided into an A A' A'' A.

The opening A begins slowly and expansively, utilizing melodic intervals of mainly 4ths and harmonic intervals of 4ths and 5ths. The interweaving or interplay of the tuba and bassoon begins at measure 9, while the piano continues the open harmony. A three-measure chromatic adventure contrasts the openness of the earlier material and leads to a new tonality at measure 19 where some of the earlier material is repeated in this new tonality. The piano takes over the interweaving before going to the chromatic wandering, slightly extended.

A plaintive bassoon ostinato begins the B section. The tuba states the main melodic idea that will be transformed in this section. It is interrupted by a staccato arpeggio figure that will continue that role throughout this section. The bassoon takes over the next statement of the thematic idea and then the bassoon and tuba play it in harmony. This statement transforms the 6/8 meter to 7/8. A climax is reached at the end of this section before returning to a quieter, rhythmically altered version with the ostinato in the piano left hand and the melody in the bassoon.

A recapitulation of the opening A occurs with subtle transformations. The movement ends quietly with some lush chords that move to a more open sound in the piano.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/interplay_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Interplay Movement 1

Hello Readers,

I am in the process of composing a composition for the Maxwell Trio to take to the International Double Reed Society Conference in 2012. The Maxwell Trio consists of Susan Maxwell, bassoon, Steve Maxwell, tuba and Amanda Arrington, piano. All are professors at Kansas State University.

This instrumental combination has inherent challenges stemming from the abundance of overtones present in the bassoon and tuba sound. I know from my experience in writing for tuba ensemble that dissonances sound muddy on instruments with a lot of overtones, so my harmonic style for this piece is quite conservative. So my challenge was to create an interesting piece within that restriction.

As I was composing the piece, the title "Interplay" came to me as there is a lot of counterpoint between all three instruments. I usually try to post sections of a piece while I am composing it, but with this composition I was very unsure of where things were going, and even if it was of value. I struggled because I could not find any direction or form out of what I was composing. I felt that the ideas were good and some sections were better than others, but it just did not make any sense. After stepping back for a while, I realized that I needed to add more to the opening section and after doing that, it became clearer that I was writing a sonata form of sorts.

I say "of sorts" because all the thematic material seems somewhat related so I feel that it is more monothematic than having two themes. The contrast between the themes is created more by treatment, with the first theme being staccato and the second theme being lyrical, rather than by new thematic material. Here is my analysis of the form:

1-4 - Introduction
5-27 - 1st theme
28-34 - transition
35-48 - 2nd theme
49-57 - closing theme
58-113 - development
114-168 - recapitulation
169-end coda

I think that gives you enough to go on without my analyzing the treatment of the various motifs. There is a lot of interplay that you will be able to hear and that, and the form is enough to concentrate on.

I think you will see what I mean by overtone rich instruments causing problems if you listen to the scorch version. You can see the score, but the sounds of the bassoon and tuba are horrible. I remember about 10 years ago purchasing Smart Music for my wife and myself. Smart Music is suppose to follow the soloist adjusting the speed of the accompaniment when the soloist plays into a microphone. But it never did. When I called the company, they said that oboe (my wife's instrument) and tuba (my instrument) are the most difficult for the microphone to recognize because there are so many overtones, the mic doesn't know what note you are playing. So I gather that the MIDI instruments playing the scorch file are inadequate because of the amount of memory needed to accurately contain all the overtones of a bassoon or tuba. The mp3 is a more realistic audio experience since it uses sampled instruments.

To see and hear what I have discussed, go to http://www.cooppress.net/interplay_blog.html. You can view and hear the score if Scorch is downloaded on your computer and/or listen to the mp3 file.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Dr. B