Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

This is the rough draft for a composition that is admittedly partially inspired by another thread here (the one that introduced me to some really great music, and particularly that of Thomas Tallis). Although this is for an instrumental quintet rather than voices and, of course, couldn't begin to approach that level of writing, though I am pleased with the culmination of this piece (being section VIII starting at 8:41). While, I'm probably just imagining it, for a fleeting second there I seem to almost capture that spirit. But then, quickly lose it.

I am pushing myself extremely out of my comfort zone with this one, not to mention its much longer than I am accustomed to.  And as such, I would appreciate any impressions or suggestions for improvement as well as insight for notation issues such as the appropriate key signature for section VII (measures 132 to 160).  Since I tend to not stick to traditional treatment of keys, I usually choose key signatures that reduce the number of accidentals to make it easier to read. But I am stumped on this one, and have for the time being just put it in C major.

Also, there is the problem of constantly having to change dynamics in measures 69 to 71 to achieve a moody weaving effect. (This was actually the reason for my previous questions on this matter). And I should mention the form is intentionally unique to this piece as its an instrumental drama.

The music itself is intended to convey the almost spiritual experience of a foggy dawn in a nature preserve atop a small mountain. 

Views: 421


Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

MM, I love your concept, your instrumentation and many of your ideas, but the piece wanders around too much and is too long. Different sections don't seem to emerge naturally from what came before, or even to provide an appropriate contrast, but rather seem like brand new ideas.  Your melodic lines would really benefit from having a sense of direction, and a sense of eventually arriving somewhere - maybe the fog breaks and the sun shines through?.  I would imagine that the beautiful scene you described, the foggy dawn in a nature preserve atop a small mountain, would be based more on harmony, shape and texture than on a melody, at least at first.  Maybe after the harmony and texture have been established and have created the mood, a melody would add to the scene, especially if the melody seemed to be leading somewhere.

The section from 8:42 to around 10:00 or so is indeed lovely.  Maybe you should start there and work backwards, so that the material leading up to this section creates a fitting container to open up into this nice textural buildup. As the composer, you know what you want to achieve.  But I always advocate taking the best part of a work in progress and creating an equally good lead-up and afterglow.  Maybe this piece would be most successful as 5 - 6 minutes or even less instead of 11 and a half?  Some nice cadences and a climax or two would also give a sense of direction and give the audience space to breathe and absorb.

As far as key signatures are concerned, I don't think the purpose of key signatures is to eliminate accidentals, but rather to establish a tonal center.  So for example, your first key signature indicates the key of Eb, but your extended pedal point on Ab tells a different story.  That first Ab sounds to me like a tonic.  That would make the first key Ab Lydian.  There are different schools of thought about key signatures for the modes, but I would prefer an Ab key signature (4 flats), with each D marked as natural.  Then I would know at a glance without even hearing the piece that it began in Ab Lydian.  Since Lydian is my favorite mode, I'd be eager to hear what you did with it!  As it is, your Eb key signature implies that the piece begins on an extended IV, which isn't very appealing.

When there is no tonal center, then no sharps and no flats is indeed the correct key signature.  It isn't really the key of C, it's no key!  Many of us these days would rather use accidentals than to imply a key that suggests a tonality that contradicts the sound.

I really look forward to hearing your continued fine-tuning of this piece, which has a lot of potential.

While I like avant guard music and atonal pieces, this one sits somewhere between standard and "out there", like it's striving to be a united piece with harmonies at first yet the voices can't find each other.  For my ears, it is meandering and seems to lack a singular thought, but perhaps that's purposeful? I kept hoping to hear a melody in there that would repeat at some point (even though I know repetition is not necessarily good always), perhaps some kind of harmonic blend to help counter-balance the dissonance.

I'm not getting peaceful foggy dawn, but instead an overview of a landscape featuring a quiet yet fractured aftermath of some kind of cataclysm. People slowly trying to find a clear path through a tangled impediment...

Thank you both for taking the time to listen and respond. I've spent the day working on the issues noted. 

I have removed all the wayward and dissonant parts I can see, reworked those that are remaining and attempted to write a new, more abstract Introduction. Abstract is something I have never tried, so I'm not even sure how to evaluate it. I tried, but was unable write anything without something of a melody to it.  I hope it is, at least, improved. Thanks again!

Here is the edited version. 


This sounds much more peaceful and contemplative, I think you've improved things immensely, especially from about 1:10 on.

I'm impressed, MM.  You've done a lot of cleanup in a very short period of time!   Is this the entire piece now?  The length is very good - you can hold an audience's attention for four minutes with this material.  It does suddenly end, though, so I'm wondering if you haven't written the ending yet. 

I have a few more suggestions.  For some reason, I've taken a great interest in this piece, so I hope you don't mind me going into teacher mode.  The first part is much more foggy and gentle now, and is in the correct key signature.  You could bring out the Lydian mode even more than you do.  Just an occasional D natural like you have doesn't really bring out the true nature of Lydian.  Maybe this article will help with the concept of modes:  Seven Modes, Three Colors

The change in nature, in tonal center, in tempo in measure 16 is too abrupt.  You should finish the first section with some sort of cadential motion, then gradually take us to this second section, which is in the key of Eb major, not Ab Lydian. The actual notes of the two keys are the same, but the tonality is quite different. Now the D natural is a leading tone to the tonic, not a raised fourth.  A very different atmosphere.  Those low staccato Gs in the cello don't work very well for me - what is the musical point of these?    This section is the weakest of the three, although it's still interesting enough that I didn't tune out! 

You begin your loveliest section in measure 42, but again it starts rather abruptly.  It would be nice to have a clearer cadence, a chance for the audience to catch their breath and prepare for the wonderful last section.  We need cadences in music for the same reason we need commas and periods and paragraphs in writing - to create a clear delineation and to breathe!  It's not just the performers who need to breathe, but especially the audience needs to take an emotional breath and a chance to absorb what just happened.

When you are thinking about your ending, it might be a good idea to determine the overall shape of your piece.  Does it rise and then fall back into the mists at the end?  Does it continually rise and end on a high point?   My students draw out the shapes of their pieces, sometimes before they've written a note, but always before they finish the entire piece.  Will you go out with a bang or a whisper?  Are we still in the fog, or has the sun come out?

This last section is also in Eb major, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to end on an Eb unison or an Eb chord.  You're not really using functional harmony in this piece, but you are writing in a tonal idiom and it's satisfying to an audience to finally "come home" in tonal pieces.

Here's an orchestration question - why an oboe and an English horn?  They are so similar that you've missed an opportunity for a richer texture.  A clarinet would give a new timbre, different from oboe/English horn.  When you are writing contrapuntal lines it's good to have recognizable timbres so we can follow a particular line.  Another thing to notice is that your flute stays in the low or lower middle register most of the time.  I'm not looking at the music right now, but I don't think you even use leger lines for the flute.  Flute in its lowest register can only play p or at most mp and will be hard to hear with all the other instruments flowing around it.  There are many places where I would take the flute up an octave.

Finally, without dynamic markings it's impossible to know what you really are saying in this piece.  In my world dynamic markings are written as you go, not after all the notes are written.  Dynamics help us determine which voice or voices are in the foreground and which are in the background; what is the rise and fall of the shape; where are the climaxes?  I don't hear any climaxes by the way, which is totally ok for a misty, foggy, atmospheric piece.  Climaxes do give more shape, though, and a great sense of arriving somewhere.  You might consider at least one climax, possibly at the end if you decide to have a shape that ends with the arrival of the sun!

Thank you for the suggestions, Julie. I made use of most of them and I feel they really benefited this composition.  So I made a little collage today to determine the outline for this piece which I will add to this reply.  I've worked in two of my favorite not-so-common cadences and wrote a short surprise ending. I changed the oboe part to bassoon, as well. I also fixed the staccato low g's. At the moment I'm not sure how to make the first part more lydian, though. 

I think I should explain the unusual use of dynamic here because it is fundamental to the concept I was aiming for. Basically after listening to the Thomas Tallis music, I was fascinated by how voices rose from the sea of harmonies and I wondered if that occurred because (it seemed) they were singing at the top of their ranges. So I actually started this composition with that goal in mind. Basically I wanted five instruments with mostly five different melody lines plus a 6th melody line that formed from the higher pitches of each. 

Thank you for providing insight. I now really like this piece.

Thank you for listening and your feedback, Keith.

I really like this piece now, too, MM!  Congratulations on an excellent job.  I especially like your wonderful collage outlining the shape.  May I add that to one of my articles about shape, and share it with my students?  The article I would probably add it to is: Listening for Shape   Your picture is worth a thousand words and must have been a great guide toward modifying the musical shape.   Another article you might enjoy contains the Tallis piece and other textural gems: 
Listening for Texture

Your cadences are great now - I appreciate the chance to breathe between sections.  Your ending is also great - I love the fact that you ended in F major.  The entire piece now has that free-flowing, pre-Bach feel, before functional harmony put a stop to some of the fluidity and freedom of earlier times.  I have to say I do love this style.  I also love Bach and all the masterpieces since Bach.  But there is something special in this "early music", as you've certainly discovered.

Thank you, Julie and yes, you may.  Your pages are enlightening and helpful. Thank you for sharing them. The outline was something of a game changer. The problem hadn't been a lack of vision for the piece but rather that I kept changing my mind. Once I put it in a visual format I was able to refer to it and stay on track.

I figure I may as well add to this thread the nearly finished product.  I've cleaned up the score, made a couple small changes and put it in what seems like would be an appropriate form with title page, etc. Though I am not entirely sure everything is correct.

I've also attempted to eq the wav file mockup for better sound quality which seems better but is not great.

Anyway, I agree about this style of music. It really captures my imagination.  I intend to further explore the possibilities of its scope in future compositions. 

Thanks again.



This has improved greatly since your original post.  Good for you!

Since you questioned in your other post regarding notation, I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of doing some quick edits to your score to show you some of the "proper" conventions in notation.  Bear in mind, some of these can be interpreted differently, but it will hopefully give you a starting point.

Cover Page

Generally speaking, titles such as you have here should be done in quotations and italics.  Block letters for types of works (ie, Sonata for..., symphony in..., etc.).  Composer name in block.  Also include the instrumentation of the work.  Copyright notice at the bottom as you have.  No need to include transposed score note.

First page

Include the title and composer info (again italics here), also include the title at the top of subsequent pages.  No need for copyright notice after the first page.

Instruments should be bracketed by family, wws, brass, percussion, strings, etc.  In this case it would also be appropriate to bracket the entire ensemble in a chamber work such as this.

Flute in m3, I substituted the trill with a grace note figure.  At this tempo, you won't get much of a "trill".  This is easier to read for the performer and you still get what you are asking for.  

I unified the dynamics.  Keep in mind, the players don't see each others parts.  The bassoon entry in m2 is going to enter at the dynamic established by the other players, they don't know the others are at p and not pp.  The music will dictate how the players respond.

I altered the rest and tie patterns in the score.  "As a rule"...don't cross the major subdivision in a measure.  In 4/4 time, this would be between beat 2 and 3.  Fill and beam to the division with notes and/or rests and then complete the measure.  In 5/4 time, the division can occur between 2 and 3, or 3 and 4.  I tried to interpret what fit best in this case.  I may be wrong, but hopefully you understand what I'm saying.  I wouldn't say never, but I wouldn't use a whole note tied to quarter to fill the bar.  (OK Julie, I know there are some lol)

In general, in a piece such as this, add rehearsal marks, letters or bar numbers.

Measure 15, perhaps a simple piu mosso instead of multiple tempo marks.  The ensemble will never hit the numbers right on.

Are your sections titled?  I would use these instead of section numbers fwiw.  They almost self define themselves with the break you create.  Add a double bar line at the sections and a new tempo mark also a rehearsal mark.  If the section has a title it can be included.

Sorry for the length, but it's nice to see you thinking ahead to how your music looks as well as how it sounds.  I refer you back to the quote by Gardner Read.

Look forward to more of your work!



Good calls on most of the notation topics, Tim.  The one that competition judges jump on most frequently is "showing the beat division".  So, yes, 5/4 time should be divided as 3+2 or 2+3, but rarely 4+1 or 1+4.  It's especially important when eighth notes or smaller note divisions go across beats - that's one situation where the judges usually rip the poor composer to shreds.

The one thing I don't agree with is quotes around the title.  I've never seen that anywhere, and I don't see quotes mentioned in any of the notation bibles.  Where did you get that from, Tim?  I also see italics used sometimes, but not always.  Different publishers have different formats for the title page, and usually spell out the exact requirements, which seem to differ across the board.  I wouldn't worry about italics, quotes, block letters, etc.

Many composers do include "Transposed score" or "C score" these days, but on the first page of the score, not the title page.  Some people say that since "transposed score" is the default and the tradition, there's no need to say so; others like to be very clear about the whole transposing question. 

How nice of you to demonstrate, Tim!  What a generous gesture.

Thanks Julie,

I agree that the style and format of title pages are subject to publisher nuance, but I do think they are important.  As I said, I would never present a work for consideration without one.  Not so for posting to a forum.

I started the italics after seeing it here in the Indiana style guide.  They referred to "Gould", so I assumed it was in her book and therefore "gospel".  I just checked and don't see any mention of it in her book.  (Just when you think you know...!!! lol).

Indiana Style Guide

After all these years, I keep learning!

Reply to Discussion



© 2018   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service