Music Composers Unite!
This seems like a great forum to discuss composition techniques so I wonder if I can raise a discussion on composing for a small number of instruments.
What do you think are the advantages and limitations of writing for small groups? How best can you express your musical ideas and harmony?
I am interested specifically in composition for trio as I am working on a trio piece at the moment, and I am intrigued by the unique setting provided by three instruments.
Does anybody have any suggestions of trio pieces that I could study?
Writing for chamber groups can be a great way to get your music performed, and if you can develop a relationship with a group you can write specifically for them. As for pieces to study, I would start with Beethoven's chamber music. For something in a non-classical mode, I think there's a lot to be learned from Schoenberg's String Trio.
Thanks all for the great advice, that's all extremely helpful and supportive! Hopefully have something to share with you by the end of the year.
What kind of trio are you writing for? If you're talking compositional challenges, then having a piano is kind of cheating: any missing harmonies and dynamics can be supplied by that instrument.
I'm always blown away by craftily written trios for monophonic instruments, especially if you're adhering to classical harmonies. Ok, Bach trio compositions on the keyboard are along the same lines. It's very hard to say everything you want to say if every single note counts.
Very good points made here. I am writing for a specific ensemble of violin, viola and cor anglais, for a film screening. To this point I had already scrapped three separate drafts, and I think I've got something now. I found at first that I was focusing too much on the harmony and melodic elements, in terms of fitting to the film. I've tried something a little sparser now, and in this instance, every note especially counts. It's been a challenge but it's opened my eyes to many techniques.
If anyone wants to have a look, I'd be delighted! Positive criticism greatly appreciated... I still have to go over a lot of the harmonic effects.
Take a look at you average romantic piano sonata. Leave out one third or so of the chord notes. Now hear the new piece for the first time. Would you say that something is missing? I'm guessing no.
Fredrick zinos said:
I agree with Jon. If you have notes in your score that don't count, why did you write them?
Hi all, not sure if those earlier comments are aimed at me - I didn't say that notes don't count? If they were then perhaps you misunderstood me.
I can arrange for a midi file, however as the piece is "effects" driven, it doesn't sound much like the written score, or rather, not what I'm going for with the live instruments!
Should have a rehearsal at the end of the month, I'm looking forward to it!
Good suggestion Jon, was thinking the same today on my ponderous walk to work. I will try and arrange a recording and hopefully have something for you all to listen to!
Thanks for your comments and support.
Hi Richard, thank you for taking the time to look at the score and write your feedback, I really appreciate that. I will absolutely be working on this more; now that I have a solid draft to work on, I can start to polish it. Your comments on finding the focus in the sections have really helped, as I wasn't sure on where to start fixing the piece up.
I still have to double-check a lot of the harmonic writing - I'm pretty sure I'm in the right area, but always good to be sure before a rehearsal with professional musos! You are right, that is an untransposed score. I paid pretty close attention to the ranges I was working with but you have pointed out some places where there might be problems, such as those descending phrases in the cor - I'll be rethinking those pitches. At ms 50, my hope was that the harmonic on the cor will drift over the movement in the strings - I think my intention regarding the focus was to have the violin at the foreground with the octaves. I think the violin may have to play that by "jumping" over a string (by playing the top B on the A string), but I may be over-thinking that and making it too difficult. It might be easier to play those phrases on the G and D strings.
I'm at work now but once I'm at home I will be going through the piece again with all your comments in mind. Once again, I really appreciate your comments, you have inspired my confidence. Thank you!
Richard Ford said:
I don't know what to say about the "note missing" discussion... Luci, there is some good writing here. Is it an untransposed score (looks like it is)? The key thing that I find with trios and other small ensembles is how you use the voices and how they play with each other. You have some nice sections where the focus is clear and other sections where it's not as clear.
As you rewrite this (if you're still working on it) I suggest going through section by section and asking which idea is the foreground and which the background and then making sure that's come through in how you're voice it. For instance, if this is an untransposed score the C.A. in ms 41 is going to be very prominent as that's the top of the range of the instrument. (And you'll want a technically solid player performing it.) At ms 50, are you intending the Viola to be the focus or the C.A.? The figures in the viola and violin are going to draw a lot of attention so if you want the C.A. to come through you'll want to notate that. You clearly have some knowledge of the C.A. harmonics and those should add some really nice colors to the piece.
When you have it finished and performed, I'd love to hear it. Good luck!
Have you got the piece rehearsed yet? How did reality match up to what you expected?
I'm intrigued by the CA harmonics - what is the reason for using these? Are you sure they are possible - normally you get (3rd) harmonics from low notes on a wind instrument (most fingers down) - maybe the bottom perfect fifth or so of the instrument, whereas your opening note is a written B - one finger down only which I would have thought was hard to get harmonics from and the next written note is itself an octave harmonic (seven fingers down plus octave key, I think). Unless I've misunderstood your notation. (they would work well on the oboe, at notated pitch afaik)
Also the notation you've used for the natural harmonics on the violin isn't the normal notation - it looks almost as though you are stipulating an open string. Normal practice is to write the sounding note itself with a circle over it to it indicate that it is a natural harmonic.
At bars 94 - 97, you may be lucky and get the CA player to play those notes piano, but you will be lucky! Something closer to mf (or maybe mp) is far easier to play.
But mostly I agree with Richard - there is some good writing here, lots of independence of parts, but interplay also, with each part able to stand on its own as a solo part. Trios (without piano) are actually harder to write than quartets, in my opinion, because you don't have the crutch of full harmony to lean on. Ending on a bare fifth, with each instrument in a separate range, is a nice touch
Thank you very much for your reply and helpful comments. You are right - I wasn't entirely sure about the cor harmonics, and the natural harmonics. It is something I need to work on and your suggestions are really helpful to me. I had a rehearsal with the ensemble before the performance and these mistakes were pointed out and corrected by the musicians. In the end the cor player managed to hit the 'harmonic' pitches with a clever bit of over-blowing I think, but I certainly know more about the range and what is possible, so you are right that what I had written wasn't entirely possible. The effect I wanted was achieved though which was great, same for the violin harmonics.
The performance went very well and I was delighted with the results - I got exactly what I wanted, with soulful playing from some fabulous musicians. It was recorded but it may take a bit of time to get it as the group are so busy - when I do though I will be sure to share it with you all!
Thank you as well for your kind words about the score. It was a challenge and I learned a huge amount about trio writing. I really appreciate the time you took to look and comment, that means a lot to me!