Music Composers Unite!
Hi everyone! Here is a short orchestral piece that was written a couple of years ago. It was originally created on Cubase with a more futuristic synthesizer feel to it. Ever since I found Musescore I have wanted to revisit the theme and write it for a full orchestra. I have tweaked it numerous times and it seems it will take a while until I am fully satisfied with it. Melodywise the piece is acceptable but my main issue now is the playability. I am currently reading Rimsky-Korsakov's book about orchestration (and two more books are soon to arrive by mail) but I decided to take a shortcut and ask the fellow forumers for improvement tips.
Are the fast woodwind passages playable? What about the horn glissandi in the first two measures? If not, could trombones do that kind of a long slide? Are the glissandi in the string section (measures 1-3) too vague expressions or should I replace them with more accurate passages? (They are remnants from that day when I tried the glissando in Musescore for the first time and thought "Now, this is a cool sound. Let's put that here, there and there. Done!").
Any feedback is most welcome! Especially the kind that helps me to understand better orchestration and instrumentation.
The score with audio:
The original Cubase-version:
Nice little piece. In general woodwinds can play fast runs, but having noodled on flute I wasn't sure about the trill at the top of your run. However, I pulled out my flute and it works quite easily, so you're good there. BTW, do you want a trill between Eb and F?
You might want to compare the version in Musescore to the Cubase version. I hear a lot of dissonance that isn't there in the Cubase version. Or Musescore just sounds awful.
Very nice, especially the cubase version - very filmic and self-contained.
Some issues and suggestions re the score (none of this covers things like range issues, which could be there but I can't read the notes)
It's pretty messy. Not a problem at the moment per se, but it's cluttered. Lots of collisions between hairpins and dynamics, slurs going through notes, etc. All of that adds difficulty to giving feedback at an early stage so these boring clerical issues are best addressed at the start before you put the score out for critique.
Horn glissandi: what you've written are horn rips, and that's pretty accurate notation except you might want to write "rip" above them for clarity. In terms of strict glissando, horns can bend about a tone at the most. A trombone slide will be a different sound altogether, stick with horn rips. I question your interval choice though - they unison at the start but then harmonise at the end? I'd either have all 4 horns unison the same rip (awesome powerful sound) or have 2&4 harmonise the full range of the rip and start higher. Also, 1&3 are generally the high specialists and 2&4 the low, which you probably knew, but you have 2&4 playing higher. I'd swap the parts. (This happens with other instruments as well - tbn2 in a higher range than 1 for ex)
Woodwinds are probably all fine, I've had similar things recorded. You've done exactly what I was recommended with the oboes (by an oboist) in dovetailing those runs from b4, as breath management on oboe is different to other WWs. You could probably get away with longer passages before switching, but caution is never bad for breathing space.
String glissandi probably fine, but I've never written any. It seems unambiguous though. If you wanted to be clever you could work out which string is best for the gliss range and indicate it.
Harp and timpani need their tunings/pedalling indicated at the start, and at any point they change. Probably not an issue with the timpani here though.
Don't use the octave bass clef for contrabasses and contrabassoon. Players know to play an octave lower than written, so make sure final parts and score reflect this. If you need to tidy a score, use octave lines to avoid collisions.
From b4 you've divided the cello into octaves, which I assume is to fill out the sound (I used to do similar things), but you've also done the same with bassoons and underused other instruments. I'd keep the cello unison on the lower octave, unison the bassoons on the higher, utilise horns 1&3 perhaps and also an orchestra of this size would likely have a bass trombone you can use (other composers would have other ideas on this orchestration, of course). However, the bass end doesn't need to be too complicated and too much harmony in the lower range can reduce clarity.
I'd swap vn2 and vla so the violins are taking the high notes and viola doubling the oboe. In general, I think you can do more with unison sections - add the flutes to the oboes perhaps, add a piccolo or a glockenspiel to bring out the high notes - as the instinct to have a lot of different lines shared between sections and instruments can reduce the immense power available to an orchestra. The violins could take the flute melody, which would really soar played by two dozen strings, and those sustained violin chords - which seem really to be just implying the chord harmonies - could be picked out by hn 1&3 and trumpets, which are doing nothing. One of the most valuable things I learned was that instruments in unison, even if sacrificing harmony options, will sound more powerful. This is why themes are often taken by almost the entire string section, or all trumpets or all horns. I think your piece would benefit from some re-orchestration in this area.
Percussion - you have cymbals, presumably a crash pair, but at times require them to roll. A separate player with a suspended cymbal or a tam-tam might be better. Timpani rolls can be written with one triple-slashed note.
Trills - for clarity, you might add a grace note to indicate exactly what the trill is.
Staccato - we're getting into personal territory now but you probably don't need anywhere near as many staccato markings as you have. Staccato brass especially can take on a pinched, nasal quality - if you remove the dots in b3 you would still get distinct retongued notes, but with more fullness.
Dynamics - I'd go no further than pp-ff. The bigger the range, the more the musicians have to work to subdivide. The standard is p-f, so ppp-fff means that fff is relatively f, and f is something like mp. Stick to p-f and use ff/pp for special occasions. And I'd ensure more or less consistency across changes (no fff on timpani whilst everything else is f). There are some instruments and scenarios where you have to mark them specifically lower or higher but generally the musicians and conductor will sort it out (as is generally the case across the board). Your clarinets in b4 are mp and f - why?
Other people could comment more specifically but this is just based on my own experience. If you're interested, some similar things come up in my pieces here: http://composersforum.ning.com/forum/topics/my-recent-recordings-wi... and you can see/hear how something written translates into real life (as an example, I had unison runs on piccolo, flutes, oboes and clarinets but you can't hear all of them - if I'd used less instruments the result would have been much less full.) This is not the only way to write and orchestrate, of course! But there's a few shared concepts.
And the big thing is looking at scores. Find scores in the style you write in and look at how they do things.
Also: http://www.music.indiana.edu/department/composition/isfee/ is brilliant for real-world abilities and restrictions of players and instruments.
Steve: thank you for the feedback and confirming the flute part. I am not 100% set about the trills yet. The Musescore default on trill-symbol is the next note on the scale.
Rowy: thank you for commenting. Back when I created the original version I was afraid of any dissonance and just tried to emulate modern film music with heavy percussion, brass and a lot of reverb. I only wanted it to sound "cool and epic", not necessarily playable. Now that I have been fascinated on composing real players there might be an issue of "too much going on" at the moment. I am eager to give everyone an interesting line to play, especially in a short theme like this. There is dissonance in the new version but not all of it is unintentional. The difference of the two versions is absolutely intentional. Musescore sound can be changed with soundfonts but it is not my main concern yet.
Dave: thank you very much for your long and insightful reply!
I do like the original version as well. When I am really finished with the MuseScore version I might import the MIDI to Cubase and make combination of the both versions.
I will fix the horns and try it as you suggested. Starting from unison and arriving in different notes is intentional but I admit it was an experimental last addition before posting the score here. I will swap the high/low parts you mentioned, it's a thing I should have done earlier but I considered a less important. Valuable information, thank you!
I think I got the reminder of dovetailing from your Brandenburg State Orchestra thread (if I remember correctly). Good to know about the strings, I will settle down with those for the moment.
Actually I feel a bit stupid now because I have been struggling with the current default orchestra layout. I think I originally thought that I want to make it sound good without any additional instrument parts. I did not want to break the default but now I am going to do that and re-orchestrate the main theme.
The dynamics are inconsistent mostly due to the playback. It's faster to change the volume of a part by using the dynamics mark instead of opening the mixer panel. I will fix those in the last phase. The same with staccatos in brass, they sound (Musescore playback) better in that part but I will remove them if it affects the real life timbre. I definitely need more score reading practice so I can connect the written and the heard better. I will start with your scores.
Again, thank you for your great reply. Looking forward to update the score.
Do you have a score of the Cubase version, Lasse?
Oops! Sorry man, I'd forgotten you'd commented on that thread. You'll probably see a few points where I've ignored my own suggestions - dividing violas and cellos say - but that was partly experimental, and partly influenced by John Williams' orchestration.
There's no true default orchestral lineup, but if you've got contrabassoon you've probably got bass trombone (you're more likely not to have c.bn than b.tbn), and a 3rd flute who'll double piccolo, and perhaps a 3rd trumpet. I wrote/arranged my pieces to fit with the lineup at my disposal for that session, which mainly meant sacrificing some percussion, but if you're writing the music you want then don't be stymied too much. In terms of session recordings like I did the standard lineup seems to be what's in my scores, so it might be wise to aim for that initially though (still huge). My ideal orchestra is about 15-20 more musicians, mainly on strings and percussion.
Dynamics - right, so that's purely a vagary of the Musescore playback. Fair enough.
As a demonstration of my staccato point, in b25 of Elaborate Revenge Strategies there's a big triplet played by most of the brass. It sounded staccato without me needing to notate it. If you have fast staccato parts, the musician is compelled to play them separated by default, further separation starts to remove the note from existence. (I broke this rule in Valency of Valiance by having staccato'd fast woodwinds, but my rationale was I wanted that very crisp sound and high woodwinds require so little air per note the articulation is easier to sustain. Did it make a difference? No idea.)
I also made posts earlier this year when I recorded with a brass player and tested out some specific articulation differences:
And right at the end of VoV there's a big horn rip notated much as you did - kind of disproving my suggestion about unison, as they're all different intervals.
Never feel stupid, I have made so many mad decisions in my scores over the last couple years that, when the mistake was pointed out, I saw it immediately and couldn't believe it had got past me. Dozens, hundreds of mistakes. Right up until I sent my scores to be recorded, and it's still happening and will continue to. Bloody music.
Rowy, the old version only exists as a Cubase project file. I could export the MIDI tracks (there are only a few) to MuseScore and make a readable score. But maybe later after I am done finishing this current version.
Dave, my apologies for leaving out important context. Like Bob guessed, I was talking about MuseScore's default template. Nice to hear about your preferences though, sounds something what I would aim for as well. Your reminder about adding instruments to the line-up gave me a boost of motivation to go meticulously through the program settings (page layout, hairpin positions, everything). Surprisingly I started to see all that once-jargon in different light. I update the score in a couple of days and will probably leave the current version online for a while for comparison. Thank you for the new links as well. I'll enjoy those tonight with a few cups of coffee.
Bob, thank you. Currently I am using MuseScore Orchestra GM (sf2). However the online playback (automatically generated on upload) comes from the default soundfont. When I get the score improved I will update the sound source.
Thumbs up! It's big and epic. I just listened to several other tracks from your soundcloud and you're incredibly talented. Frozen Express (Final) is lovely!
Bob, I am fairly sure I have tried SSO at some point earlier but I think it was too frustrating (to me) to change the instruments in the mixer panel. Tried it again and noticed the big difference. I might use it with the "final mix".
Thank you very much, Carlo! I am humbled by your words.