Sunday, December 6, 2020

In Broad Darkness

 My brief YouTube description for this piece is: An ode to 2020 -- sometimes evil is done right out in the open, and people don't see it only because they don't want to see it.

This is not pretty, and it's not meant to be. And while I usually avoid the label "atonal" for any of my works, it does apply here... well, for the most part, at least. There are no "clean" major or minor chords anywhere outside the interlude in the strings (mostly; the oboes double the upper strings for the last two bars of the first half of it) from about 6:55 to 8:31.

Interesting (to me, at least) story about that section: it started as my answer to a question about how to transition smoothly from Bb minor to A minor, and after working that out, I proceeded to D minor, then G minor, and ending at D minor while holding a  G in the bass to help introduce the brass interruption that ends the passage. I thought about removing this passage to use in a new piece, but decided that, even using minor keys, it provided a needed relief to the "noisiness" of the rest of this piece, and it does serve a programmatic function as well, so it stayed.

Another thing is that I divided the violins into four parts rather than the usual two. I started out trying to write the first and second violins divisi, but the phrasing and dynamics of the divided staves got too cluttered, so I just made it four parts. I thought about also dividing the violas and cellos, but thought that dividing the violas would thin them out too much, and didn't need that much harmonic density at the low end.

And about that "no major or minor chords" thing -- there are a few spots where a given group of instruments may be playing in a tonal manner, but apart from the interlude mentioned above, they are always accompanied by other sections playing antagonistic chords (or clusters) to the group trying to be tonal. Generally, if there are 8 instruments playing, there are 8 different notes being played, and not different octaves of the same note. There are very few doubled octaves, as I was mostly trying to avoid emphasis (in the background, at least) of any particular note in the masses of sound. It didn't occur to me while writing it, but I think this piece actually comes pretty close to being an orchestral Perenepsis, but those have so far been limited to piano pieces, so I think I'll keep it that way.

As for the story behind this, I think I'll just leave you with the YouTube description above. If you get it, you get it... and maybe it helps you make sense of this monstrosity. If not, then don't worry about it.





Sunday, November 15, 2020

Perenepsis XII: Falling Forth

 Here's the gap-filler to accompany Perenepsis #13, and it's also been finished for about a week. It's probably the most lyrical entry in this series, although I don't think that's exactly what I set out to do here. The subtitle to this one, as with #13, is a reference to the opening idea, this time being a repeated figure of a descending fourth.

This piece starts out as though it's going to be simply a theme and variations, but after four times through the initial 6-bar phrase, there's a contrasting section, then a return to two instances of a four-bar version of the opening theme that is shifted down a fourth (D to A becomes A to E), before a brief ending section that lands on an open A chord with no third in it. The last note before this chord was going to be a C, to strongly suggest A minor, but I changed it to a D to serve as a final "falling forth" to the A; the final chord still has a minor feel to it, but I think the D works better both logically and audibly. 

While there is a good bit of repetition here, no two bars are exactly alike (except at the very end, where the closing chord is held across three bars of 5/4). This one's about a minute longer than #13, but I would say that it's a little less complex, and maybe more relaxing.




Saturday, November 14, 2020

Perenepsis XIII: Tapping

 I started this one a couple weeks ago, and was about to title it as #12, then realized that I had started 12 back in June, and I'm not one to change titles once they're given, so 13 comes before 12, but this time the out of order posting isn't arbitrary. #12 is also finished now, but 13 was finished first (about a week ago), so it gets posted first.

Okay, now that the administrative details are out of the way, a little bit about the piece itself. The subtitle will be obvious from the opening. It came together pretty quickly, particularly the overall structure, which is roughly ABACABA, or in more detail, AABBAACCAAABBAA, with a short coda at the end -- yes, there's a third A after the Cs, which will be explained in the next paragraph.

The first of each pair of A's is right hand only, a rhythmic figure without any real melody, with the left hand providing melodic elements in each second (and third) A. The first pair is centered on C, the second on Bb, the first two of the third on D, shifting to G for the third, then back to C for the final pair and then to Bb again for the brief coda. The first set of Bs is centered on Bb and the second on G (following the oddball A section, also in G; also, in addition to being transposed, several of the right hand chords are inverted from their initial appearances in the first B sections). Everything is in 4/4 except for the C section, which switches to 3/4 (although I use off-beat accents to destroy the "three-ness" toward the end) and is in Bb minor, the only part that is unambiguously in a specific major or minor key throughout -- at least, until that final chord before returning to the A theme. I thought about taking this out and making it a separate piece, but decided it fit here and I didn't really feel like turning it into a standalone piece, anyway. 

It's just under two minutes long, but there's a lot going on in this. 




Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Uncertain Time (Perenepsis XI)

I took the day off from composing yesterday, but still had my momentum, so I cranked out another short piano piece, a sort of answer to the previous "In These Uncertain Times". This is what real uncertainty sounds like, not the music in those insipid ads.

The first 11 notes (2 bars) have been in my head for a while, and as they comprise a 3/4 + 5/8 beginning, I thought this could be the start of something to demonstrate uncertainty. The time signature is constantly shifting; two stretches of 3 bars each of 2/4 are the longest it goes without changing (and several pairs of 5/8). The harmony is based on fourths, similar in some respects to my much earlier Allegro in C., including a passing reference to its opening.

For a change, I think I'll have a post in which both the music and the words are brief. You're welcome.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

In These Uncertain Times

It's a stupid little phrase, uttered so often on so many commercials during the hostage crisis. When you're locked up, and there are fewer things to do, there's actually less uncertainty, not more. Also, all times have been uncertain, just in different ways, so I decided to write a little thing to make fun of the insipid piano music that accompanies most of these little nuggets of idiocy. If it doesn't sound mocking, it's because you don't know my feelings about Maj7 chords -- they're not exactly ugly, but to me, they sound weak. They're meant to be transitional chords, not the main event.

Let me backtrack a bit, though. I was back in the score that gave birth to the just posted Emergence, and as I may have mentioned before, I really like stacks of fifths. There are several ways to stack fifths, and one of those is to have two pairs of fifths with the bottom of second pair a major third (in this case, plus an octave) above the bottom of the first. When you do this, you get a Maj7 chord, here it is F Maj7. I wrote the first bar with that chord,then a single note before the second chord, and thought, "Yeah, this sounds like it could be on one of those "In These Uncertain Times" ads in which companies, instead of telling you why you should by their products, tell you that they care. Guess what? They really don't; they just think that if you think they care, you'll fall for their nonsense and buy their stuff regardless of whether it's not very good. And it must work, or they wouldn't keep doing it. Or maybe it really isn't very effective, and their marketing departments are run by morons. Maybe both.

Anyway, it's a throwaway little thing for piano, in boring old 4/4 time in F major with lots of Maj7 chords, written in a couple of hours, although being by me, it did have to spend some time in D minor. For the most part, it's just a calm little piece about the actual lack of uncertainty in these uncertain times.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Emergence

A second piece for orchestra in a row. And this time, it didn't take 9 years, only about two weeks. What happened is that I was working on another recently started orchestral piece, and had a passage for piano that I thought didn't quite fit and also might sound better with brass, so I started a score for brass ensemble, and was going happily along (briefly) until I realized that it needed more than just brass, so it ended up making its way into a new orchestral score the same day it had first surfaced in its original home. It's still predominantly brass, but I let other instruments get in on the fun... but without the piano.

It starts off in A minor, shifts into the relative major of C for a brief fanfare episode in the trombones and trumpet (in 6/8), then back to A minor (and 4/4) for most of the remainder, but when the fanfare material returns, instead of going to C Major again retaining the same key signature, it goes into A Major for a much brighter ending. Some of the woodwinds don't have much to do in this, but hey, at least they got into the game in what was initially going to be just brass.And the first bassoon has what is probably my favorite line in the whole piece. I could probably expand this into a much longer piece, but 5 minutes seemed sufficient to express what I wanted to right now. Maybe I'll come back to this.

As for the title, it possibly does mean what you might be thinking at the time of its composition. Or maybe not, depending on which particular events (or overreactions) you happen to have on your mind. I don't think I'll elaborate further on that, other than to say that it's definitely not about tearing things down.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Testimony

This is something that I started back in 2011, but it would be misleading to say that I've worked on it for 9 years. It started off with the flute theme that is now 4'04" into the piece, and gradually grew from there in small spurts, although the overall plan was pretty clear from this beginning. It's been nearly done for at least a couple of years, and as mentioned in the previous post, was mostly done last week. Now it's done. For now.

The title has a double meaning: First of all, the idea behind it is that of different witnesses (instrument groups) giving testimony about the same event -- the overall picture is roughly the same, while details differ. It's not so much a "theme and variations" thing, though, as just a constantly evolving theme. Which statement presents the "truest" depiction of the event is left to the listener.

Second, while it is not exactly a tribute to him or an attempt to write something in his style (I'm not nearly dramatic enough for that, anyway), the initial flute theme mentioned above did remind me a little of Shostakovich, and so the title of his memoir seemed a fitting name for this, contributing to the "testimony" layout of the piece.

The first four minutes are spent building up to the main idea, the first "testimony", offered by the flutes (twice). It then goes to the clarinets, the bassoons extend it a little, the oboes offer a faster version, and after a percussion/low brass/flute interlude, the trumpets get it, then the horns, and finally the strings (which had participated in the introduction along with the horns, tympani and harp, but hadn't gotten to "testify" yet).

After brief, overlapping statements from the flutes and oboes, the strings get it again, leading into a fugal section based on an "energized" form of the "testimony" idea. From there, well... you just have to listen. At a little more than 16 and a half minutes, for once the music is actually longer than the comments describing it. You're welcome... I think.