Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Colloquium Inter Amicos

A conversation among friends -- arguing, agreeing, joking, teasing, talking over each other, changing the subject, bringing back previous topics, and finally adjourning. It is simultaneously an animated landscape with running water, rising and falling hills, birds and other critters, and the occasional moment of stillness.

So, nothing for months and then two pieces within a couple of days. I do have a few other pieces getting near completion, but don't expect this pace to continue. I actually thought this piece was going to be completed before the previous one; it took considerably less effort to finish, but unlike most of my pieces, the ending was the very last part done. Once the early flute theme resurfaced, the ending became clear, and a few minor tweaks finished it, all but one of these being in the final six measures.

With 88 bars in 4/4 at 88 bpm, it's actually slightly over 4 minutes long, due to a couple of fermatas. A few brief false ritardandi are accomplished rhythmically -- my favorite is around 2:08, where the bassoon seems to be dragging the tempo down despite steady quarter notes from the flute; a couple of other milder ones are done with half-note triplets.

Formally, this is similar (but not identical) to something I've wanted to do for a long time -- it's a sort of theme and variations, but with the variations coming first. In this case, it's really themes and variations, with the full version of the primary theme not coming until 3:13 into the piece. It opens in C minor, with the full theme in G major, and ends on a D-flat major seventh chord, so it does wander quite a bit harmonically, with a lot of chromaticism.

As you might guess from the second part of the opening description, it shares some conceptual similarities to The Pensive Ploughman below, and even some thematic relations (e.g., the meandering eighth note background figures, representing water), but has a very different harmonic language, more lively and varied rhythms (although not much faster tempo), and due to the different instrumentation, different colors. I'm not sure which of the two I like better, but that's usually the case for me.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Pensive Ploughman

A farmer stands at the edge of his field, his dog sitting at his feet. Within earshot of a nearby stream, he ponders the day's efforts, wondering what else has happened in the world while he worked. As the sun touches the horizon, he offers a brief prayer of gratitude before heading inside for the evening.

The instruments portray different elements of the above description: the clarinet, of course, is the farmer; and more or less, the violin is the faithful canine companion (can't just call a violin a dog, can we?), the viola is the stream, and the cello is the land itself.

It's sort of a companion piece to Shepherd's Call -- while it was finished a little over a year later, it was started exactly two months after starting S.C. I got to thinking that I was working on my second piece for oboe and piano, and Bells (along with the Mozart clarinet concerto) had finally shown me that the clarinet can actually make some nice sounds. So, I decided to write something for clarinet -- and harpsichord! They just didn't get along with each other, but I liked the beginning of the clarinet part, so I thought a string trio might provide a better accompaniment. It did. The opening eighth note figure in the viola brought the picture together, and it was just a matter of fleshing it out from there. The main stumbling block (after the one mentioned in an earlier update) was the transition back to the opening theme just past the halfway point; once that was worked out, the rest fell into place, and I finished it on July 4th -- and went back to that section and finished it again on the 6th. And then once more today.

Musically, it is roughly in D minor / B-flat major (with a middle section in G minor that ends on F major), and the time signature is 5/4, although it could just as easily be in 3 or 4, as the barlines in this piece are mostly there to hold up the staves.