Tag Archives: Samuel Barber

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.

The aesthetic of a Largo (or other slow movement)

A year or two ago, the orchestra I played with played Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I think it’s not surprising that the piece is popular and played frequently. It is really beautiful. It has its challenges, but it wasn’t too difficult with some practice to get it reasonably performable.

I guess I just started on the Largo one week ago, and I have only taken three sessions to work on it. I’m pretty happy with how those 44 measures turned out. At such a slow tempo, it really is more up to the performers to make it beautiful, but I have attempted to write in lovely harmonies, interesting counterpoint, and fairly straightforward articulation. I look forward to trying it out with some friends before too long.

One thing I did more this time around than I have before is voice crossings, which means that a lower voice plays higher than a voice above it. For example, the second violin has an ascending line, which crosses the first violin’s line, or the viola skips above the second violin. I also have the viola and the second violin playing the lowest note (at different times), instead of the cello, a few times in this movement. The voice leading demands it. It will be interesting to hear how that turns out. I have a few times where two instruments temporarily play the same note, and I am curious to hear how that turns out.

The one thing I don’t have now, that could be good to write in, if I decide to add to it, is a section where the violins play “in the stratosphere” or in the extreme high register. I don’t know if I want to though, and I’ll revisit that idea tomorrow.

I anticipate that the fourth and final movement will take significantly more hours to write. Typically, a fourth movement will be a fast and sometimes furious movement. Anytime you have to write more notes, it just takes longer.