Sunday, September 8, 2019

Seven Intervallic Impressions

Another piano piece, and another slow one, at that? Yep -- guess I hadn't gotten all that out of my system yet, but this one's a little different. I started with a low C and thought, "What now?" Then, "How about if I just go up in alternating minor thirds and fourths, and see what happens?" C, Eb, Ab, B, E, G, then back to C, so 6 notes. I made my way through these six notes a few times, then decided to repeat the process starting on each of the other notes, with some using the minor third first, others starting with the fourth.

But that would be only six, which wouldn't be quite right, so a seventh was added as a sort of coda, going back to C, looping through its notes just once before returning to a final C. It actually ends on a C major chord, but the spacing (both horizontal and vertical) makes it not too obvious.

The general idea had been in my head for a couple of days with none of the above details (don't ask me how that's possible; it just is), apart from starting on a single low note. I started actual work on it last Friday (Aug 16, which was last Friday when I started writing this, really!), just before midnight, and was up until about 3 AM, by which point it was pretty much done. Over the weekend, between doing other things, I tweaked it here and there; with so few notes, the treatment of each one becomes more important -- dynamics, articulation, octaves, etc. I also adjusted the barlines -- originally written out in 4/4, I wanted to more clearly delineate the sections The next couple of days I just listened to it, and yesterday made two final small tweaks (and a couple more while writing this description that is probably longer than the piece itself)..

Structurally, I - III form a group at 50 bpm, IV - VI are a second group at 80 bpm, then back to 50 for VII (coda) -- Roman numerals make them look more important on the score. Each differs in number of notes (from 7 to 36) and beats (5 to 25), and in duration (4" to 31"), but the longest doesn't have the most notes, nor does the shortest have the fewest (I almost said "least", but that would be incorrect). Although each impression contains only six different notes, there are three different sets of six (V and VI are the same sets as I and VII, just starting at different points of the rotation, as is also the case with II and IV). Three notes appear in 6 of the impressions, three appear in 5, three in only 2, and three in just one.

Also, III speeds up rhythmically in anticipation of the tempo increase starting with IV, while VI (using only chords) slows down rhythmically in anticipation of VII's return to the slower tempo. Originally titled "Seven Brief Intervallic Variations", I decided that even with the "brief" modifier, these were something less than variations, so "impressions" seemed a better description.

And now, each one has its own title -- but I'm not going to cheat and count this as seven separate pieces in an effort to help meet my 12 in a year goal:

I. Introduction (31")
II. Oh, There It Is! (10")
III. Call and Response (7")
IV. Catch It Before It Flies Away (13")
V. Don't Blink (4")
VI; Stuck in Traffic (9")
VII. Farewell (15")

If you hit the "play" button before starting to read this, it should be over by now.

Monday, June 24, 2019

January Has a Face Like a Turnip

This posting was intended to be something other than another piano piece, but I was inspired by a brief, unexpected cold (for here) snap to write a little celebration of winter, just as it was officially ending. (Note: This was finished back in March or April; not sure why it took so long to get around to posting it.) It might not sound very celebratory to most, but hey, it's my celebration, so I get to celebrate my way: very slowly, and in G minor. But hey -- at least it's not another Perenepsis, so there's at least that as a difference from the last two.

And then there's the title. I think it's one of my better ones, at least of my posted pieces up to now. It's a true statement. And it's not a put-down of January or of turnips, both of which I like. January is my favorite month; it's one of the cooler ones, a plus in my book, and it's also the month during which I was born, which I consider to have been a pretty decent thing. Turnips are great in a vegetable soup, go good with pork, and add a nice twist to mashed potatoes. Very underrated -- kind of the vegetable equivalent of January.

This started out as a kind of ground bass variations thing, but only the first two bars of the bass pattern actually repeat throughout. Elements of sonata form crept in, and something happened that I kind of like, especially the sequence of chords starting around 2:19. I'm not even sure what to call a couple of those chords, but I like them, and how the whole sequence keeps increasing in density but then ends in just 4 octaves of D in preparation for a return to the tonic G for the beginning of the recapitulation of the sonata aspect of the piece.

I'd like to say what's coming next, or when, but at this point I have no idea. Too many ideas fighting for attention right now -- old ones still in progress, some less old ones near completion, a few recently started ones at an indeterminate state of progress, and some even newer ones that currently exist only in my head, or as scribbles at the end of current scores. If I had to guess, I'd say it's probably going to be another piano piece or something for string quartet, and in terms of when, probably not until July or August, possibly depending on when I take my summer vacation.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Perenepsis #7: Winter Contemplation

Another Perenepsis entry so soon? Yeah, sometimes it just happens. #6 came together in less than a week and this one, aided by a day off for a visit to the dentist, in about a day. It isn't what I started to write, but I shifted gears on it almost immediately, retaining only the first three notes (transposed) of the original idea and decided that I had something coherent that could turn out pretty decent.

As the full title implies, this is a slow, meditative piece, in B. Specifically, the rather neglected Locrian mode... except for when the F-sharps pull it more toward Phrygian mode. Or when the A-sharps make it more of a plain B Minor. Or when the D-sharps skew it toward B Major. Anyway, it's in some form of B. Except for the middle 3/4 section, which is in A... sort of.

Even though #6 and #7 don't sound that much alike, they both fit my hard to explain definition of Perenepsis -- #6 is more along the lines of the original #2 (now #1; I have since swapped the order of the first two, which is not reflected on this site), and this one is closer to #5.

Meanwhile, the piano piece that I started less than two weeks ago, having been pushed aside by these two newcomers, has decided to give it a rest for a while. I'll probably work on some other things while I let it marinate. Maybe something for strings; give the piano a rest for a bit.

Perenepsis #6: Folk Dance(*)

First off, I have to say that the full title here is a compromise. It is a sort of folk dance, somewhat along the lines of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, but a little distorted, using mostly alternating bars of 11/8 and 10/8, with three sevens and a five somewhere in the middle, inspiring the title "Folk Dance for People With One Leg Shorter Than the Other". However, I realized that some might find this offensive, so I decided to go instead with "Folk Dance for People With One Leg Longer Than the Other", which can't possibly offend anyone, can it?

The rhythmic oddities having already been addressed, this is otherwise just a little piano piece (as implied by the Perenepsis part of the title) in D minor, never straying very far or for very long from the initial idea expressed in the first two measures. If you're familiar with Dvorak's Slavonic Dances mentioned above, you might like this... or you might not. And if you're not familiar with them, the same thing applies, which makes this reference rather superfluous, but I thought this write-up needed a little padding, so there it is.

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.