Tag Archives: Endings

Finishing another piece

I’ve reached kind of a benchmark for the solo piece I’m working on. Today I write in the poetry so that it’s visible to the performer right after the cover page, and right before the notes of music start. It’s my intention that the performer should read it out loud before performing the piece.

I know I’ve gotten the ending phrase at least mostly the way I like it. I think more about the dynamics in the piece and write in all my hairpins, sforzandos, pianos, pianissimos, fortes, fortissimos, etc. that needed to be added and I’m tweaking a note or two. I add in another little phrase to extend and hopefully improve that key modulation I was working on yesterday, and let it rest a little.

I’m going to take tomorrow off and hit it fresh again after the holiday to see if there are other things I want to tweak before calling it done.

Final week of symphony polishing

I start the morning’s composition session by looking at what I wrote Friday. I see that I then thought the shape was about right, and that it mostly needed detail work.

I listen through the ending. I feel content with the transition from B minor to C major. The ending feels like the timing is about right, but it definitely needs more orchestration doublings, maybe some other figures in the winds and brass and percussion.

I listen through the entire movement. I make a note of a trumpet part that needs a note fixed, I see a second clarinet part that totally looks incomplete, like I wrote one note and somebody interrupted me. And from page 20 on, I know I need to look through the orchestra and add in lots of doublings and more figures because it’s basically string orchestra only, and it needs to be a tutti section, more or less.

Where I had written a contrabass solo, the melody doesn’t come through well, and I’m thinking I might double them with cellos. I try it, and realize the cellos will totally overpower the basses. I give the tuba a lower dynamic, and give the contrabasses a fortissimo, and maybe it will work now.

I make the second clarinet part a little longer so he or she can stay on that trill for ten beats instead of four. I start working on the second flute part in that section. It’s definitely fuller and more complete.

The string orchestra section that is supposed to be tutti is first supplemented by a triangle part. A few measures later, I write in two flute parts, an oboe part, a clarinet, and a bassoon part. Even though the figure of the section is familiar, the new-ish bassoon part is the one that stands out as most melodious. I decide to double the gist of the line with trombones, add in some trumpets after that, and it just continues to flow with more brass parts. I know I’ll need some shimmering flutes to double the shimmering violins in the next few measures. But the trumpets have gotten to the end of the piece, which is very exciting.

I add in the timpani, cymbals. I listen through the piece again. Wondering if it’s any good. Making notes of adding in some punctuating horns, possibly a viola part, and a marimba. And then I don’t know what to do. So I’ll break for lunch soon. But first, I try to do the ideas I wrote down. It’s a good stopping point.

It’s concert day, and time for my viola to get a sound check, so I spend the rest of my day taking care of my instrument, warming up, playing through the most difficult parts of the orchestra pieces, and drive my daughter to climbing practice, drop her off and head straight to call time for the orchestra concert.

Orchestra concert is fun. It’s a new venue, and at our preconcert practice I can hardly hear most of the orchestra. I just hope we sound together. I sit close to the cellos this time, but when the concert is going on, I can hear most of the sounds I’m supposed to. It’s surprisingly well-balanced, and it’s a lot of fun. I think my favorite part of the program is Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns. Because it’s the last on the program, it’s easy to have the melody linger in the mind after the concert is over.

Playing the Imperial March this time, the trombones are glorious, and I am basking in the fun accompaniment that the violas participate in. Our conductor has some weird Star wars helmet on which brings a kind of gravity to the piece.

It’s my first time performing Peter and the Wolf (by Sergei Prokofiev). It is kind of an odd piece, that has lots of little parts. I think my favorite part is when the duck is swimming in the water. If you’ve heard this piece, you may remember that it’s the oboe that plays the duck theme. The violas accompany in divisi, meaning there are two viola parts and we split.

I know I’ll try and finish the orchestration either tomorrow or the next day. I might have time to also go over all the bowings and phrasing for the strings.

More thoughts on writing a symphony, part writing, etc.

I ended up getting in another fifteen minutes last night and I worked on making the orchestration shimmer with some more woodwind parts.

Today when I pick up work on the symphony I’m thinking more about the clarinet line. There was this section where I had two bassoons playing, and it seemed a little bare. So I put in two clarinet parts and a flute part, and it’s more complete. I’m finding that I’m very pleased with the string parts I worked on yesterday, but second guessing the ending again.

I settle on changing the viola part at the end, which easily lends itself to another five measures of closure (I’m hoping it’s actually the end, because the piece is over seven minutes now), and I pump out a second violin part and a cello part to harmonize and play with the viola line. I’ve got to listen through the entire piece to see if I feel content with the way it ends.

I go to clear my head, walking outside, visiting a neighbor for a little while. Listening through the piece, I conclude: It’s probably not the end after all. It’s not definitive enough. Breaking for lunch. Adding in one more measure, extending the wrap-up. Adding in another measure at the previous transition, and the key change is more satisfying now.

I go back to the beginning of the last section, and start filling in contrabass and cello parts. What kind of accompaniment figure/bass line should they get? Well, after writing a piece that runs about 24-28 minutes, I think I have an idea of what figures will feel like they belong in the piece. It is not time to introduce lots of new material. It is time to wrap up, and we want to hear something that sounds like the ideas already introduced to the piece.

I’m reflecting on my first exercises in my first arranging and composition class as a junior in high school (Södra Latins gymnasium, Stockholm, Sweden). I think I wrote some songs, that were more like vocalises, and I was supposed to write a harmony part, so it was two-part harmony. I think a group of my classmates and I sang it together, and I think we performed it in some obscure venue that I have since forgotten. When I took my first composition class in college, with Dr Christian Asplund, one of our first assignments was to write a duet for flute and oboe. You can hear my piece, “A play for two“, right at the top of the page titled “Woodwinds.” It is a very basic skill to master as a composer. You want to be able to find a harmonizing line that stands alone. I find that much of what I do when I work on my symphony reaches that far back into my training, and I think of independency of lines, of what harmonies I want to hear, and it extends to a third part, and a fourth part. The more parts you introduce, the more doubling you will need to introduce, so you don’t end up with a total piece of mud cake.

I come back some hours later, and I fix this and that. Some articulation here, adding a second trombone to a particular line to give more volume when that sounded a little thin against a full string section and woodwinds. I add in dynamics where I notice some missing. I’m wondering if I should add in the violas at rehearsal E or just let the violins take care of the accompaniment to the soft woodwinds. Should I add any percussion in that section? I’ll probably spend some time thinking about soft options for percussion next time I have some time to poke around. Hmm…

I know I’ll need to look through each individual part to look for any anomalies that I may have overlooked while working on the score. More missing dynamics, phrasing, articulation. I’m happy to leave the project for tonight fairly confident that most of the shaping of the movement has been done.