Music Composers Unite!
It's kinda late for this, but I've been wanting to do this yet never got around to it until now. This is my contest entry for last year's Heat contest. It didn't win any awards, but I'm not exactly surprised, given that it was done in a hurry and I didn't put too much effort into it (we just had our son last year and it was a huge adjustment to our lifestyles -- meaning, in this context, that I had much less time / energy to put into composing, especially something of an orchestral scale).
Anyway, excuses aside, I'm mainly looking for feedback on the quality of writing, orchestration (esp. instrument balances, which I'm almost certain is off because I succumbed to believing the midi rendering), and any structural / stylistic issues. Please don't bother with the audio quality -- I know it's not exactly the greatest production, but that's not my focus anyway. And I'm not really looking to revise this piece, but I will greatly appreciate any feedback as lessons for the future.
Fair enough Greg I understand though I don't necessarily agree
Finally got some time to look into your comments in detail.
About bowings: in m.6, for example, what I had in mind was separate takes per note, almost like a secco or tremolo effect. What's the right way to indicate this? The idea is the sound of a teeny bit of heat stirring in the midst of a frozen cold atmosphere. Maybe you have a better idea how to achieve this. (Though I definitely did not intend it to sound like a "nice cold effect". It's supposed to be a hint at the cold breaking up soon.) I didn't put any bowing marks here because I thought the string players would default to detache, which seemed close enough to what I intended.
As for mm.17-21, I intended the notes to be bowed detache the whole way through. Am I using the wrong notation for this? Or do I need to specifically indicate detache?
About m.22: hmm, you're probably right, I should probably respace the horns so that they don't run into the tbones.
At A: I was thinking of having the vlas play detache the whole way through... or is that impractical? Though now that you mention it, having it partially slurred would be a nice way of fading them into the background while the other instruments pick up.
At C: I think you have a good point here, with the brass cresc chords, I should probably change the pizz's to bowed figures. Maybe a combination of pizz bass and bowed cellos? For a clearer attack on each note. As for the vla's, you got me there, I think here's where I succumbed to writing for midi playback rather than following my sense of what the "correct" dynamic should be -- I did write them as mf at first, but pulled it back to mp because of the way the midi turned out. Bad, bad habit, I know. :-(
About m.63: very good point about the strings dynamic. Probably I should dial it back to f after the ff chord at mm.57-58. Or the first two 8th notes of each bar can be ff and then dial back to f (maybe with diminuendo), since it's really the first two notes that are the important allusion to the opening motif, and the descending 8th note pairs are meant to be somewhat fading, like molten ice (i.e. water) streaming off the sides of the ice cube.
m.75: you're right, the brass would probably completely drown out the winds. Good idea to push some of the winds up an octave. Esp. the clarinets, you're right that they would pierce through much better an 8ve higher. I dunno what I was thinking when I wrote this, haha... probably I was naively trying to follow a similar timbre with the precedence entries of the winds. But that's very silly given that we have strings and brass cresc'ing to ff here, and clearly the low register of the winds would be quite weak. I did look up the finale of Dvorak's 7th when I was going over this part, though, and there he had a 3- (or 4-?) octave doubling of winds at ff that pierces through the rest of the orchestra quite well. Though the spacing was different and the brass/strings in the Dvorak weren't quite doing what I have them do here, so that was probably an invalid comparison.
m.75: I intended a double stop, but perhaps that's not a good way to use a double stop? Perhaps it was stupid of me to write a tremolo double stop? :-P
As for the key sigs, I concede. :-) You're right that it would be quite confusing to read, esp. on the part of the conductor. Maybe I should just drop the key sig changes completely and just have the whole thing in concert D, and let the accidentals proliferate. :-P
Mike Hewer said:
Mike L has made good points, especially re Bass trombone as you have stepped out of the tenors register.
Bowing is sadly lacking. As a result I can't gauge what you had in mind for the strings in places. For example, the first few entries, given their dynamic and tempo would be effective in 1 bow per bar and given the title, did you ever consider the first string entries bowed sul pont, to give a nice cold effect? The fingered trems at b21 cf would be better bowed at 2 beats each as well. The semis in the strings at b20 should have more bow changes to help the cresc. or even detache perhaps! As you've marked 'gradually warming', they could slowly move their bows from s.p. to ord to literally warm the sound.
Apart from the register issue above, the brass spacings would work ok. At b22 I would have thinned out the horns blanket around the 2 bone solos, but this is subjective and not a criticism.
The music at A is ok, but vlas need slurs. Wind and horns are a classic combo at b33. I'm not a fan of the pizz figure staying as such from C cf. If it was mine, I'd bow that figure and even double each note with a semi and use separate bows, to give it more interest. Also, I'd mark the vlas measured trems up to say mf.
At b63 the strings are ff and there is some thematic work in the wind. How do you feel about reducing the strings on each key change and then crescendoing them through to the next key change? This would give the lower material in the wind a chance to poke through a bit more. Or perhaps doubling the low winds would be a better way to go if you want to sustain a ff.
At B75 cf. the balance is all wrong. I think brass would dominate here at ff. The wind might be swamped a bit, but what are you after here? I would at least put the 2nd flute up to unison with the first and the 2 bassons in unison at the higher octave. I'd probably even put the clarinets up an octave.
Is vln 1 to be divided at bar 75?
Regarding the multiple keys, it is much better to do what Mke has suggested, keep it all in one key and use accidentals.It is too confusing as is, players have no problems with accidentals. You can of course change keys, but let the wind change to the same key and use accidentals. Doing this will also firm up in their mind, the role of their motive.
Hope some of this is useful to you...:-)
Excellent idea about fluttering the flutes! Thank you for that great suggestion. I was originally thinking of conveying the dry, icy feel just by (flat) timbre alone... but fluttertonguing is probably just the thing I need there.
m.59: you're right, that's probably stupid of me to write a solo clarinet part in chalumeau what with both strings and the rest of the winds at ff in their stronger registers. I confess mm.59 to D was written somewhat in a hurry and I didn't spend quite enough time to fine-tune things as I ought to have.
m.64 - did you mean m.63? Good idea to give that figure to the dbs and have the bsn double the cellos instead.
mm.57-74: good idea to alternate the 2nd vlns with vla with each key change! That would probably also add interest in terms of timbre (however slightly) as the key climbs.
m.72: again, a most excellent suggestion. I wrote really boring parts for cellos/dbs in this entire passage, didn't I? :-P I suppose I could also swap out some of the semibreves to the tbones... not that it's really necessary to hold those notes, though, with everything else that's going on.
m.75: not so sure about doubling with trumpets, since I wanted to retain the wind timbre for the quarter note motifs. But you're right that the winds would get covered over too easily here. Maybe a single trumpet to double the winds and the other still participate in the brass chords? How much time does it take to put a mute on a trumpet? I'm worried if there may not be enough time from m.74 to switch before the wind motif enters. (As you can tell, I'm completely ignorant in this area. :P)
I'd say pretty much all of your comments are very helpful. Most of my scoring peculiarities are probably due more to ignorance than anything else, so this is precisely the kind of advice I need. So thanks for taking the time to provide such detailed feedback!
Mike Hewer said:
I had some more thoughts...
The opening wind could perhaps be partially fluttered, perhaps the flutes, to create an icy feel.
At b59 why not double clt2 with 1 or 2 horns to help it along?
Bsn 2 at b64 could be at a disadvantage against the strong vc/db octave at ff. Why not give that part to the dbs and let bsn2 double the vcs!
From b57 to b74, the 2nd vlns have a boring part. Why not alternate with the vlas to give interest, perhaps alternating at the key changes.
At bar 72 I would have given the lower motifs to the dbs and cellos too (basically the bone parts). I think it would add some clarity and is a better part than semibreves.
At B 75, if the wind need to be prominent, I'd suggest you re-space as in my previous post or double with trumpets. They could be muted for colour.
Scoring is very personal HS as you know, it's as subjective as the notes themselves. Some of my thoughts here are subjective and you can of course ignore them, but some are practical too.
More thoughts about m.75: perhaps I should drop the high piccolo notes (shamelessly stolen from Beethoven's 6th) and have the piccolo strengthen the wind motifs in the upper register. Would that work better?
@Erwin: I'm glad you liked it!
As for the theme finishing a note higher... actually, I intentionally wanted it to repeat exactly the same way (albeit with slightly different timbre) in order to convey a boringly regular ice cube: very flat, and very square on all sides. And dry and cold. Frozen. Then those irritating strings have to come and stir things up! :-P
HS..glad there was something of use for you. I can't respond fully today, but will tomorrow.
b6- tremelo is a different technique - a fast repetition between 2 notes or on one note or double stop. I still think bowing is the way to go here. One bow for each bar and maybe even marked sul tasto. You could divide the section so that some play sul pont and the rest play ord. This would give a slight edge to the sound rather than the full section playing sul pont. - so not too cold but maybe just right. Separate bows can of course work too and I do get where you are coming from with this idea (Sibelius no2 perhaps..1st mvt. letter E?).
b17-21. If there are no bowing slurs then separate bows will be used (is your first name Jean?..:-0) At b21 I would bow the fingered tremeloes though as the legato seems more appropriate under the bone entries.
at A -no detache is not impractical, but is it the best solution musically? A slurred trill would provide a nice background for the pizz parts...and give the viola players' arms a rest :-). You have already had a lot of separate bows so why not ring the changes? Although I do understand your reasons for keeping it separate.
at C . well you could have 1/2 and 1/2 bow and pizz. But the melodic figure is distinct and is there really a need to keep repeating it in the same way? The bowing would give it renewed impetus and attack - and most importantly, help it compete against the busier orchestration. This I would highly recommend.
m75. the double stop is fine even with a trem. Just mark the score non div. A conductor might divide vln1 and 2 anyway here and Vln 2 in b76 has p.5ths (gsharp and D sharp) which might get divided.
Mutes for trumpet can be put on in fairly quickly if the player has one on his lap. Give him 2 bars notice.
Hmm. Now that you mentioned it, I thought a little more about different ways to bow m.6. I think I still prefer separate bows, to give it a busier, even scratchy sound. Maybe even sul pont. But I might take the dynamic down a notch, say ppp for m.6 (or sotto voce), then pp for m.14. My concern, though, is whether I'm using the right notation. If I want separate bows on each note, should I write out the semis in full? or is the current notation OK?
And, haha, you've identified another strong influence of mine, Jean Sibelius. The sound that I had in mind is in fact modelled after the kind of sound you referred to in Sibelius 2, 1st mvmt, letter E (and also similar passages, in IIRC the 3rd mvmt). You do have a good point that it would sound better bowed with the tbone entries, though. Perhaps I can gradually transition from detache to bowed from m.17 to m.21. That would be a nice allusion to warming up as well - from jittery sparks of heat (detache) to an overall warmer atmosphere (bowed).
If I go that route, then I can probably have the vla's revert to detache on the c# just before A, then have it also gradually transition to bowed over the pizz passage and become 1 bow per bar when the horn melody enters.
At C: you have a good point that changing from pizz to bowed would give the figure a fresh new sound. Perhaps even as early as m.47 with the 5-tuplets to drive momentum towards the brass cresc's at C.
It's best to write out the first bar (m6) as semis then short hand it after. Stravinsky does this in Petrushka ( 4 th part -Shrove Tide Fair, also separate bows) . The way it is written from m7 on is correct and clear. Sul tasto would be preferable to sotto voce as it is a precise technical indication that will achieve the effect you want.
You could gradually transition bowing, but why? The transition from separate semis to bowed on the fingered tremeloes is not a problem and the impetus of separate bows will enhance a cresc. Try to hear the effect in your minds' ear and ignore the God awful playback. An accent on the first note of the fingered trems at m21 would enhance the transition to slurring.