Tag Archives: Harmonic rhythm

The discipline to write

I think I must have written about this before. Sometimes you just don’t feel super excited to write, but the piece has to get written anyway. And the case right now is that I’ve written three movements, and I’ve commenced on the fourth and final movement. It’s not hard to fill in more notes to keep the ideas going, and to weave in the previous movements’ themes. It does require a good amount of focus, and I know it will be hard if I’m interrupted a lot while I’m working on it.

When I pull up the score today, I decide to start with a cello line, and I write what I think will be a good bass line. Then I add in the viola line, and next the second violin line, and last of all the first violin line. It is really interesting to me, that even though the top line typically will sound like the melody, that all the harmony underneath really supports that line, and while I could write a few different versions of the top line, it is quite constrained by all the other lines. The counterpoint in a string quartet is one of the most compelling reasons to write a string quartet. You try to give all the parts interesting lines to play, that lets them give the line to one another, and it’s best if all the lines will feel melodic and connected.

Once I’ve gotten to the end of that small section, I decide to lead with the first violin instead. I’m keeping in mind the idea I had early on with this piece, which is harmonic rhythm, that I let that be one of the things I focus on. Not switching harmony too often, or if I switch, it’s a smaller switch, where maybe just one note changes instead of the entire tetrachord (four notes that form a harmony, as opposed to a trichord, which is what you find in a major or minor chord, and with four notes, you’d often have doublings). There’s this one part where I notice that a measure is a beat shorter than the surrounding ones, and I make a 3/4 measure in the middle of the 4/4 piece. I see that often in the music I read, and it’s just part of what makes the music more interesting.

I finish that part, and I hear in my head a cello line, so I start with that next. Sadly, the kids are playing really noisy music toys upstairs, and I don’t know if I can keep the music straight from what I’m writing. It’s definitely the wrong key, and it just doesn’t fit. I think I’ll get back to this tomorrow. I conclude that I’ve added another 25-40 (depends on how you count) seconds of music, and decide to be content with my progress.

Fast and furious

As I started working on the fourth and final movement of my string quartet, I was reflecting on harmonic rhythm. How often you change the harmony, and how central that is to the feel of the piece. I decide to take inspiration from Philip Glass, because I have never really tried to write in that style. One thing I have noticed with his music is the usually pretty slow pace of change. There are often what you could call a drone, a repeated pattern, that goes and repeats several times before altering it slightly. I have personally thought it a successful approach to making the music enjoyable, and therefore I’m going to keep my own harmonic language, but attempting to incorporate some of his energy and determination in the way he writes into my own piece.

It’s interesting to think about how each of the movements definitely has its own inspiration, but still have the same kind of idea intermixed with the difference. I hope when you hear it, that you can hear what I’m talking about!

First movement: for sure inspired by Mendelssohn. Second movement – waltz: inspired by Swedish folk dances. Third movement – Largo: inspired by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Fourth movement – Fast and furious: inspired by Philip Glass. With the caveat that I might change the order of the two inner movements.