Surprising move, or not

I’m picking up the string quartet this morning again. I write some notes for the first violin, and then I work on the second violin. I find that this time the second is leading, and it’s a fun change. I had the viola part extending the longest from last session, and it just seemed like the line should be repeated (nearly) but with an octave higher, and the second violin naturally took that line. It seems that next, I should develop the line in the first violin, and let that instrument take the lead.

But instead, I catch the vision that the cello and second violin play contrary motion to make for an expansive section.

Small essay –

Contrary motion is when you have two lines, and whenever one line is getting a pitch that is higher than the previous one, the other line is getting a pitch that is lower than the previous one. If I have one line that is consistently climbing upwards, the other line climbs downwards on the staff (and in this case, you would expand the span of the interval between the notes, little by little – which is why I call it an expansive section). If I have lots of up and down alternating, they would be alternating opposite. It makes for more interesting lines, more independence of lines, and I like the way that harmony works out that way too. –

End of small essay.

When I get back in the evening to put some more notes on the page, I on impulse add in a few notes where previously there had been a rest for a couple of the instruments. I add in an accent for the violins to match the viola in one place where it looked like I had just forgotten to do it.

And then the line flows out of first violin at the place where I’d left off this morning. I have the three lower parts in what amounts to the viola playing a melody with the others accompanying for a few measures, and the first violin adds more harmony to the accompaniment, and then moves over with quarter notes accompanying the second violin. When the second violin part ends, it seems very natural to keep going with melody for the first. All I had was a cello bass line to relate to, and I try to remember to use contrary motion a lot, because I like the way it sounds. Sometimes a line gets to repeat the same pitch, but I’m thinking about the melody like a line you have to hold on to for dear life, or you might drown. The first violin is kind of holding on to a hope that she or he has to keep going up, or they will go under water. So I keep going up, sometimes repeating pitches so the harmonic span doesn’t get too wide too quickly. Once I land on the high A, which I know is kind of high for the violin because my software marks it red (I have confirmed that the violinists I work with have played this pitch and higher in concert, so I’m not worried). But I decide to leave that idea there, and move on to playing a kind of counterpoint with the cello line. Until that ends, and then I just improvise, and write the ideas I had that came while I was listening through the entire piece.

I often start my composing sessions by listening to the piece I’ve been working on. That way, the improvisation that is part of composition seems to flow more easily. I have this section with rhythmic unison (all the instruments on the same rhythm) that comes to give the listener a break from all the busy counterpoint, and I feel like it is very needed now. I just need to hear those accents again, all the four instruments together. As many times as my ear requires a rest, and then I can start on counterpoint again.

When I’m getting to the viola part again, I have to write lots of sixteenth notes again to make the counterpoint right. I have been listening to Cristina Cordero’s rendition of Weber’s Andante e Rondo ungarese today, and I was following along with the music. She has really beautiful tone, and I’m inspired that there are musicians like her that can play so many notes so sonorously on this instrument. She was only 18 when she made that recording, and I actually listened to several others of her videos today, and I try to keep this lovely sound in my head, and trust that the viola can play the notes I’m putting down, even though I know it will be a challenge.

It can be helpful to imagine someone better than yourself playing the music you’re writing. I’m imagining I’ll be better after working on this piece as a performer, and I’m ok with that prospect.

I’m getting tired of working on this piece. I think it’s getting close to ending though, so that is a good thing. I just need to wrap up this movement, and then I think I should probably write three more. But they will be contrasting enough that it shouldn’t feel like I’m working on the same piece.

So I write a few measures for the second violin, imagining the general environment that the other instruments will play against that line, and I decide to make an ending. It’s nearly seven minutes, and I think I can be pleased with that length. I’ll end for tonight and look at it again tomorrow.

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