Thursday, December 13, 2012

Further Interruptions -- What Is This?

So, I thought I had my active work list narrowed down to about 8 pieces, when I had an idea to do another short orchestral piece for Christmas... actually, for Advent. I thought I'd do an instrumental setting of the Introit for the Third Sunday of Advent, even got a little of it done, but then decided that what I had so far was pretty good, but not good enough for the text it represents, and with Gaudete Sunday only a little over a week away at the time, I didn't want to make it a sloppy rush job, so it's on hold.

Back to the list of 8, then, right? Yep -- for about three days, which ended up being occupied by non-musical activities. Then, late Sunday night I for some reason decided to start a piece for woodwind quartet, without a theme or even a mood yet. Still, a weird bass line for bassoon materialized, then a melody for oboe, and some motion from the clarinet, leading to a second theme for flute, and by the time I went to bed I had about 40 seconds of something that didn't sound too bad. As I was trying to fall asleep with this new thing running through my head, it demanded to be more than just a woodwind quartet -- it has to be for orchestra! Fortunately, I had Monday off, so I was able to put in a few hours on it, and sure enough, that bassoon line morphed into the subject of an opening fugue for the string section, so I now have about 1'10" of the strings, and it's still not up to where the winds kick in.

Okay, so my list is now up from 8 to 9; not a big deal... that is, until yesterday on the way home from work when another idea popped into my head; I was thinking brass ensemble at first, but good sense prevailed and it became a piano piece instead. I worked on it for about an hour last night, then had it running through my head today at work, and when I got home today it didn't take much longer to finish it. But what to call it? I could've called it Perenepsis #6, but although it has some aspects of that, it's not quite one, and #s 4 and 5 aren't done yet, anyway. It's basically two-part contrapuntal writing, as with Prelude in B Major and Nota Brevis, or perhaps even a little like Anachronistic Rabbits, except this one isn't so much major or minor as based on fourths. Considering its brevity and how quickly it came together, I decided to just call it another "sketch" -- a quick, fun little thing, barely a minute long, with perhaps just a hint of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle theme:

Now, back to work on my real pieces...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another Sketch

This one is in F Minor, for organ. Now, as mentioned way back regarding my Untitled Prelude, I am rather limited in terms of organ sounds on my current setup. Until I can get a more adjustable organ sound I'm stuck with this fairly thick and heavy sound, which precludes very intricate organ writing. Thus, the fugal section that tried to bubble up in the middle of this had to be abandoned, which is just as well in this case, as it would've turned into a more involved piece than this quick little sketch.

Even though this took about a day longer to write than the previous sketch for piano (much of this time actually spent "unwriting", as indicated above), it's about half a minute shorter; it is neither light nor relaxing, so I figured that listeners should be subjected to no more than two minutes of this... (you're welcome!)

Hopefully, I can now get back to the seven (or possibly eight, as I may return to the one for clarinet and strings) "real" pieces on my current active list; there is a general idea for some other new thing that may make it to paper soon, but I'll try to finish one of the Perenepsis pieces and at least one more of the quartet movements before getting sidetracked again.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sketch in E-Flat Major (Overtones)

While being in a position to possibly finish the previously threatened Perenepsis #5 before #4, something else popped into my head two days ago and is already done. It's just a quick little thing, based on the harmonic series (hence the title), but I kind of like it. In contrast to the Perenepsis pieces, this is blatantly tonal -- E-flat major, chosen in order to render it more calm than bright -- with very few accidentals.

There is some interesting (to me, at least) stuff going on structurally beneath the "severely tonal" harmonic language. Overall, the form is ABA, with the B section (in 3/4) itself an ABA form, and the 4/4 A section breaks into ABC, and then CBA on the return. Breaking it down further, the 'A' part of the overall A is itself AABB, and BBAA in the repeat (and a slight overlap in the B's), with a V-I cadence sandwiched between the very last A's of the A part of the overall A section. Also, the 'A' of the overall B section is related to the 'B' of the overall A, the swapping of the left and right hand parts in the latter being a larger-scale version of the alternations in the former. I hope I can follow this a few months from now when I read it...

Mainly, though, it's just a nice, relaxing little thing that is considerably easier to play than my other recent works. My favorite part is the very last note; raising the G in the final chord by an octave really did something nice there:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Another boring update...

As promised/threatened in my previous post, Perenepsis #4 is now well under way, and to my surprise, this one is (I think) much more "user friendly", or -- to use music geek terminology rather than tech-speak -- "accessible" than its predecessors. I seem to have finally made the giant leap from organized chaos to chaotic organization! Yay!

There's also a fun new thing for percussion ensemble and trumpet; still working on getting to the part where the trumpet joins the party, and writing out sufficiently precise and nuanced drum parts is not a lot of fun -- having played with a drummer who didn't need to be told what to play (Hi, Neal!) has spoiled me -- so progress on this will likely be slow.

Finally, on Sunday I began the final movement of my String Quartet #3, the first movement of which was posted here a year ago as A Little Fugue for String Quartet, the only movement that's completed so far, and even that is likely to undergo some revision before it's all done. The second movement is over halfway done, the third is nearly complete, the fourth (the oldest in terms of material) maybe nearly halfway done, and already the fifth is making good progress. It was going to be a second fugue using a variation of the first movement's subject, but just as that movement's fugal structure kind of imposed itself on me, in only my second session working on this movement, it decided it wanted to be something more like a sonata form, while retaining its thematic relation to the opening fugue.

I like the overall structure of the quartet -- tempo-wise, the movements are slow - fast - moderate - fast - slow, with the final movement itself having a slow-fast-slow layout, and in terms of tonality, they're E minor - E major, A major, A minor, then back to E minor. Hopefully, finalizing the overall structure will spur me on to complete this, but Perenepsis #4 will probably be finished first.

Unfortunately, my relative shortage of free time means that the above pieces have pretty much crowded out everything else mentioned in my previous update. The good news is that I won't be running out of ideas to work on any time soon... and there's always the prospect of a Perenepsis #5 lurking in the future -- I don't think I'm quite done beating that idea into the ground yet, and #4 has led me to consider whether the Perenepsis concept can be applied to a slower piece (as opposed to slow sections within the existing faster tempos used so far). In fact, I just remembered that I have the first 16-20 or so measures of an old idea that may fit the bill for this, so I guess the question now is: Will there be a #6?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Palindromes (Perenepsis #3)

Well, I thought the next piece posted would be for string quartet, but of the two pieces I "finished" on Tuesday before the hurricane turned out the lights, this is the only one to have passed inspection so far; the strings need a bit more work. This is Perenepsis #3, which is similar to Perenepses #1 (aka Scherzo #2) and .#2, but even more so, meaning that if you didn't like them, you'll like this one even less.

This one is in B-flat major (approximately; as with the other two, it wanders too much for a key signature to be useful). While it is #3 in the Perenepsis series, it was actually the first to bear the name. It began as a retread of an older unfinished piece, but departs from it enough that I may still may return to the earlier piece at some point.

Palindromes -- most of them slightly "broken" -- are woven throughout, beginning with the introduction, which (minus its last two notes) is a palindrome in terms of not only melody, but also harmony, rhythm and dynamics. The intro originally came about as a cadence in the middle of the piece, but it seemed to make a good bookend, and so became also the intro and the end. Some of the other passages are also palindromes (as well as inversions, and swapping of left and right hand parts), and the overall structure is a truncated palindrome -- after the introductory measure in 17/8, it goes to 7 bars of 15/8, then 6 of 13/8, continuing the pattern down to a single 3/8 measure, then reversing the pattern, but ending early, with the second bar of the return of 13/8.

The piece actually has three "middles": chronologically, of course, at 1'58" total duration, 59 seconds marks the halfway point. Then there is the center of the second of three appearances of the opening palindrome, at 48 seconds. Finally, the middle of the 3/8 is at 1'20" and is itself a sort of "vertical palindrome", consisting of stacked fourths (foreshadowed by stacked fifths four bars earlier). The mood is both serious and playful -- who says I have to choose just one?

While it may not be obvious, this piece does bear the influence of Joseph Haydn, specifically his Op. 33 ("Russian") String Quartets. Also, the beginnings of a Perenepsis #4 have begun fermenting in the ol' noggin, but have not yet made their way to the fingers or to paper yet. I'm sure that this news will provoke a reaction of "Oh no, not again!" from most of you -- and an equally hearty "So what?" from everyone else...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fugue in D Minor

Well, I expected that Perenepsis #3 would be the next piece posted (it really is almost done; the entire structure is there, the ending is written, there's just filling in details in about the last 20% or so right before the final bars) but my Fanfare and Chorale (probably not the final title) outgrew the scope of a brass quintet into an orchestral piece and took over my attention. During a break in working on that, I took a look at this little fugue and realized how close it was to being complete (or complete enough), so here it is. Unlike my older g minor fugue, this one doesn't end with a Picardy third -- I gave it a listen, but didn't like it in this one. Like the g minor fugue, this one's also in 3/4 and three voices, but no double-stops here except for the final note in the bass. It's not much, just something to fill in while working on bigger things...

Edit: I knew I should've let it sink in a while before posting; the ending just wasn't right, but I think it's fixed now. After all that hammering on the low D, it really needed a brief detour to A before the end, and I thought that having each voice repeat the opening bar was a neat way to bring it to a close:

Edit #2: I also knew that I shouldn't have posted that first edit without waiting, too. The added material contained a seventh on a strong beat that was unintentionally jarring, so I fixed that and also changed the order in which the voices restated the opening rhythmic figure at the end. While listening to this correction, the only thing that hit me was that changing the length of one note would produce a more effective anticipation of the '2/4' pedal point stuff at the end. This is probably the final version now:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Shepherd's Call

This piece was actually completed a couple weeks before Perenepsis #2 (after being almost finished for quite some time before that), but I expect that Perenepsis #3 will be the next one to be completed, and wanted a buffer between the two, so here it is. Unlike Antioch, this isn't a piano piece adapted for oboe and piano, although it did start with just the three opening chords. The third chord required a resolution, and then this sequence called for a response. At this point, I wanted a bagpipe call over the held chord, but without an available bagpipe sample, I settled for an oboe and proceeded from there. The progress from initial idea to "near completion" was very quick, but a couple of bars near the end kept bothering me for months. There's something hidden in the right hand of the piano part starting at 0:36, but I don't think I'll say what it is. For now, just be happy to have a break between Perenepses #2 and #3 (since I made up the word, I get to decide how to pluralize it).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Xiv (Perenepsis #2)

The Xiv is one of the lesser-known mythical creatures, at least here in the US, having its origins in medieval Croatia. It was generally depicted as having the head and upper body of a bird of prey, sometimes with wings and other times with arms (but never both). The lower half was basically humanoid, but unlike most mythical beasts of that time, the Xiv wore pants -- and smoked a pipe (the version with arms, not the winged one).

Now, I would've provided an artist's rendering of this beast, except that all of the preceding is of course total nonsense. This is just the 14th item in a notebook of piano pieces, some with titles, most with nothing beyond a Roman numeral -- Untitled Prelude is I, II is its still unfinished companion piece, IV became Nocturne for String Quartet, V became Antioch, VI is Nota Brevis, VIII is Scherzo #2 (Perenepsis #1), XIII is another Perenepsis that I might get back to at some point, etc.

What is Perenepsis? First of all, it's a word that I made up because I didn't know what else to call this type of composition (so far, limited to piano pieces). It is also the approach used in creating these compositions. I've decided to call my Scherzo #2 (VIII) the first of these, although several earlier pieces (Allegro in C, Collisions, Anachronistic Rabbits, the piano-only version of Antioch, and a few non-posted/unfinished ones) share many of the distinguishing characteristics and similar approach to the compositional process.

What are the characteristics? More percussive than lyrical, a good bit of dissonance (not exactly atonal, but not clearly major or minor, generally employing quartal harmonies), irregular or shifting meter, tempo changes brought about by stressing different note lengths rather than by changing the beats per minute, switching parts between the hands, frequent use of inversion and reversal of motifs, mixture of contrapuntal and chordal textures... that pretty much covers it. There's also a different approach to the compositional process, but that's harder to describe, and besides, if I just blurted that out, then anyone could do it!

This one is in 2/4 -- no weird or changing time signatures (just wait for #3, though!), but accents and stresses create the impression of shifting between 2/4 and 3/8 in places; it's more or less in G minor/major/phrygian/locrian, shifts a few times between using mainly eighth/sixteenth notes and quarters/eighths, has a brief fugal section right in the middle based on an accelerated version of a subject given 20 bars earlier, and a few other fun things, although this isn't the kind of piece you're going to go around humming afterwards. It's also semiautobiographical (although I may have been misquoted in places) -- this is what it sounds like inside my head; not all the time, of course, but often enough:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Updated Update -- 6/6/12, re-updated 6/23

Just in case anyone's reading this (or, more likely, as a reminder to myself), here's what's been going on.

As stated in earlier edits of this update, the structure of Perenepsis #3 is already completed, only working out details at this point. Also in piano-land, I'm still about halfway done with another fugue, a three-voice one in D minor.

Chamber works: I have a piece for clarinet and string trio that I suspect will go quickly once I get past its current roadblock (roadblock has been removed, but work on other pieces has stalled this one); it's in 5/4, but ambiguously so, and contains some Gregorian Chant in an inner voice (as does newly posted Shepherd's Call). I've also made progress on two more movements of my String Quartet #3, one movement of which is already posted as my Little Fugue; both of these are uptempo movements, one in 5/8, and the other played entirely in pizzicato.They're fun little tunes. When you listen to Haydn as much as I do, some of it is bound to rub off, and this has led to a piece in the style of my musical hero; I work on this one occasionally, generally not right after listening to any Haydn, as I don't want to actually copy him (and I've been listening to a lot of Haydn lately, especially his quartets, so have left this alone for now). Finally, I also found another piece for string quartet that was "hiding" behind a non-quartet sounding title (Above and Below), and have resumed work on that one, too. And finally, yep... found yet another idea from a couple years ago, this one for brass quintet.

Orchestral: I've got four five pieces going here, all much more substantial than Bells. One is the remnant of my long-ago abandoned Frankenstein opera -- I liked the idea for it, but faced three major obstacles: 1. I haven't done any vocal writing to speak of; 2. it would be difficult to put together an actual production even if I did finish it, and 3. I really just don't like opera very much. So, what would have been the overture, along with additional themes from my sketches, are going into a sort of symphonic poem that is about halfway done, as far as I can tell at this point. This is fun stuff. My second one, Testimony, has a similarly eerie atmosphere to the Frankenstein thingie, but is more a set of variations for orchestra. And then there's one that is also solemn but I think not quite as eerie, and I'm thinking it may be one movement of an actual full symphony. I also found some initial scribblings of another piece (also hiding behind a misleading title) that I may work on along with everything else. One more orchestral idea has made it from between the ears to a few scribbled notes on graph paper (didn't have any manuscript paper handy when it hit me).

This isn't everything -- there's the companion piece for my Untitled Prelude, a not-quite-a-fugue piano piece in C, several old odds and ends for piano, a salsa instrumental, a Celtic tune, a difficult categorize thing for a motley ensemble called Prof. Murgatroyd's Excursion Among the Ruins of Zurm (the name of the piece, not the ensemble), an idea in 7/8 for which I haven't yet determined the instrumentation, and a few ideas still just fermenting upstairs -- but that's what I'm working on now.

The bulk of my attention since the June postings has gone to a couple of the string quartet pieces, the brass thing, the salsa, and a sonata for viola and piano -- oops, that one's not on the above list, is it? Of course, by the time anyone reads this my priorities will probably have shifted again...