Friday, November 30, 2018

Sketch in E Major for Piano

After posting that inadequately named string piece yesterday, it occurred to me that a preponderance of my recent postings have leaned toward minor keys, so I thought it might be nice to whip up something a little brighter, especially as I've probably got more of the dark stuff coming up next. I started this thing just this afternoon, and despite a few interruptions and the temptation to get all meticulous about it and play with it for weeks, I finished it and shoved it into the Windows Movie Maker, a process made easier by the fact that I just did one yesterday.

As I may have mentioned before, one of my two favorite composers is Joseph Haydn (the other being Sibelius). While I wasn't thinking about any particular piece of his while writing it, this is about as obvious as his influence shines through in anything I've posted. Stuff like this runs through my head all the time, so it was kind of nice to let some of it out.

I'm not going to complain about this one's title, even though it's along the same lines as the much more substantial previous posting, because in this case it fits -- it really is nothing more than a sketch, thrown together in just a couple of hours (including playing with it just a little bit). It's only a minute and a half long, but what do you expect for just a couple hours of work?

Edit: 12/2 Had to smooth out a couple of rough edges and vary the repeat of the opening section a little more (the ascending scale passages pretty much demanded corresponding descending passages for balance, you know). Nothing structural, though.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Sketch for Strings

This really deserves a better title, but during the time I worked on it, nothing satisfactory came to mind -- which is weird, because I'm always coming up with neat titles for things that I haven't yet written... and yet none of those fit this one. Go figure.

It started with the initial idea of a slow, chant-like theme consisting of four phrases played over a drone, initially with the cellos (theme) and basses (drone); I wanted a full string section rather than just a quintet, both for the texture and to be able to maintain longer-held notes than single instruments could do. It's in G minor; close to Aeolian mode apart from a handful of F-sharps (but no E naturals)... and a single C# in the first violins almost exactly halfway through the piece; what a coincidence!

Both the theme and drone (which is prevalent but not continuous throughout) are passed between the sections of the orchestra, and the theme is varied, split up between the sections, fragmented, and toward the end telescoped, each of the four phrases starting before the end of the preceding one. I really like that part. And then the first half of the opening phrase makes a return in the final cadence.

This was started sometime in 2015, and had been close to being finished for some time now, with just the ending and a few small details to finish. I had the ending mostly done earlier this week, then just this morning it occurred to me that it would be really neat if I could shove some of the opening theme right into that final cadence, and it just happened to fit right in. Another one of those coincidences; it's almost as though I planned it that way! Maybe I did. Actually, I did try using even more of it, but additional notes, while pleasant enough in themselves, seemed to undercut the sense of finality, so my first try ended up being it -- knowing what not to say can be as important as knowing what to say.

Another thing that slowed me down on this is that I kept hearing timpani in spots, and then trumpets and horns in other spots (particularly the 16th notes in the violins), even an entire brass section... and woodwinds... so I set it aside to ponder whether it should remain only for a string orchestra or to add in the rest. What removed this particular roadblock was the realization that it's my piece, so if I want to I can do a rewrite for full orchestra, which will be even longer than the seven minutes of this one. Here it is:

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Between the Lines

This one's an experiment/challenge. I was reading an article about the nearly(?) lost art of letter writing (Facebook posts and tweets, etc. don't count), and the author said something to the effect of more being written between the lines of real correspondence than on them. I thought, "I think I could probably write something that's completely between the lines." So I did. All of the notes in this piece are in the spaces of the staves, which placed some pretty serious restrictions on what I could write, both melodically and harmonically. No significant scale passages, as I wasn't going to resort to trickery such as consecutive flats and sharps of the same note, or writing an F as an E# or a B as a C-flat (although G-flat/F# and A#/B-flat, etc. swaps were used).

After an initial discarded start in A-flat major, I realized that the high number of both sharps and flats would render a key signature impractical, but it ended up roughly in the related key of F minor anyway, and mostly in 3/4 (using a few 4/4 and 5/4 measures to replace fermatas with more exact durations of some held notes). Still, the rhythm was kept pretty simple as a counterbalance to the relative strangeness of the melodic and harmonic aspects. The whole thing came together over a span of a little over two weeks, including a spell of almost a week during which I was too sick to work on it. I think it's done now.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

There Once Was a Sodium Ferret

There once was a sodium ferret,
And I foolishly tried to repair it.
But it fell in the water -- 
Oh, what a slaughter!
Should've stayed with the styrofoam parrot.

The title of this post and the accompanying music came before the limerick. It was initially going to be called Black Cat, due to the 13/4 time signature, but I decided that there are already far too many pieces with that title, and "Walking Under a Ladder" didn't occur to me until much later, so I decided to keep the animal reference but change it to a ferret, and for some reason it sounded reasonable to describe it as a sodium one, but "Sodium Ferret" was too short, so I expanded the title, which in turn suggested a limerick that I then had to write. I'm no Bill Shakespeare, but I think it works, although I'm pretty sure the music works better.

As with Aftermath and Restoration, this started with a bass line that actually predates A&R, going back to 2015. I got the idea down back then and temporarily (I thought) set it up for a quartet of piano, bass, drums and alto sax, fully intending to replace the sax with guitars, more keyboards, etc. Before setting it aside, I added the first three piano chords (but not the three answering ones that are now impossible to imagine not being there), and a "temporary" sax fill that I thought was goofy at the time. About a week ago, I came back to this, added the second three piano chords, extended the initial sax phrase, and realized that I had boxed myself into committing jazz -- perhaps not traditional jazz, but while A&R was toward the rock end of fusion, this is even more heavily tilted toward the jazz end of it. Now, the drumming still needs to be cleaned up, but as this is just a diversion from my more "serious" music... as they say, "close enough for jazz":

Saturday, June 2, 2018

On an Autumn Evening

Okay, so it isn't autumn now, but it was when I started this, so the title stays. It seems that I may have inadvertently written a companion piece to my Riparian Sketch for Small Orchestra -- the two pieces share a similar overall mood, and this one is in D Minor (more or less), the relative minor key to the Riparian's F Major.

While the older piece started with the idea of portraying slowly moving water and goes from sunrise to sunset, this one began with the idea of a meditative piece for piano with strings in the background and, as the title says, is in the evening. Both use a pared down orchestra, but different instruments. In addition to adding piano (initially intended to be the featured instrument), I lost the harp, added some percussion, and trimmed down the winds from 8 to 5 -- oboe, English horn (because I thought I'd be wanting to reach a bit lower than a second oboe could go... and I did!), clarinet, bass clarinet, and flugelhorn (whose part became more trumpet-y later in the piece, and so I changed it to trumpet, using a mute for the parts that had been for the flugelhorn). The only other changes in instrumentation from what I originally had in the score were to drop the marimba and timpani, leaving just a snare drum, triangle, glockenspiel, and (barely used) gong for the percussion section. I resisted the temptation to add more instruments (particularly flute, French horn and either tuba or bass trombone), lest it become too busy and detract from the initial idea; instruments can demand to say certain things (the oboe and clarinet certainly did here), and I had enough going on already for the purposes of this piece. They're also around the same length, with the older piece just a little over seven and a half minutes, and this one just under that. But none of the similarities were intentional; it just came out that way, at least as far as I can tell.

A recurring element in this piece is for an idea to be played three times in succession, with the third occurrence (and often the second, to a lesser extent) being modified, extended, or sometimes hidden among other more prominent parts. I also used something that I've employed in a couple of my larger scale pieces still under construction: doubling one of the inner string parts (usually viola or second violin) with a wind instrument, either to bring out the inner part itself, or to develop that inner line into a theme of its own. I'm sure others have done this before, but I didn't learn it anywhere, it just occurred to me while working on the Frankenstein piece, and once I did it there, it seemed like a natural thing to do elsewhere.

Enough rambling, though... here it is:

This was actually completed in February, with possibly one minor modification made sometime in March or April; not sure why I waited so long to post this (even the above write-up was done back in February), but Windows 10 always replaces the good Movie Maker with the "improved" version on every update, so I have to restore the good one over and over again. Someone tell Billy Gates to cut it out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Kites (Perenepsis #4)

Yes, this is the long-awaited (hah!) Perenepsis #4, appearing just under five years after Perenepsis #5.  Was time travel involved? Maybe, but probably only in the usual manner of past to present to future. What happened is that this one didn't initially start out as a Perenepsis, but acquired the requisite characteristics along the way, and as I've never been entirely happy with the non-posted original #4 (it has good parts that I'll probably recycle at some point, especially the "chorale" section), this seemed like a better #4 than that one.

The kites referenced in the title are very busy flying back and forth in the sky (where else would they be flying?), a keen listener will detect that most of them end up getting the Charlie Brown treatment, the poor things. More or less, the right hand supplies the breeze that keeps the kites afloat (even if only briefly), while the left hand depicts the kites themselves, but not exactly, and they overlap. That's not at all confusing.

The key is D, but there is no key signature, as it wavers ambiguously between major and minor, accentuated by one of the main themes, which goes up in minor but comes down in major, overshooting the root at the end (D--F--A-F#-Bb). It starts out in 6/8, has a middle section in 2/4, then goes back to 6/8 for the ending.

Inspiration for this piece came from listening to some Sibelius piano works, but don't blame him for this one; all I took was the idea of a quick-moving high right hand with the melody mostly in the left, and then Glornted it all up. The good news is that if you don't like it, it's only 2 minutes long.

Next up: Something for orchestra, along the lines of my Riparian Sketch for Small Orchestra, only different. Still working on the "weightier" ones, getting uncomfortably close to actually finishing one of them. Maybe by this fall...

Sunday, April 22, 2018


I warned y'all that there were more "color" pieces for string quartet coming, Last year, when I finished and posted Black one day into Lent, I wondered whether I should've renamed it Purple. This year, I started one in Lent, and named it Violet rather than purple, as it employs Violins, a Viola, and a Violoncello -- Purple is for Pianos! So, this was intended as a Lenten piece, but as usual, while it was mostly done during Lent, I kept fiddling with it (pun intended) to the point that the final touches weren't done until a few days after Easter. Still, it is what it is: slow, muted strings in 3/4 time and B minor.

Not much else to say about this one, but I do realize that all three of this collection so far have been rather dark. I'll try to make the next one brighter, but no guarantee. I do have White and Yellow in the works, and ideas for Gold, Blue and possibly Green and Silver (there should be an Orange in there, but I may do Brown instead, and maybe also a Gray; I like brown and gray). Maybe between all of these, I'll get one or two of them done this year, but these aren't the only pieces demanding my attention.

Next up, another piano piece, then something else for orchestra. After that, who knows?