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People have told me the mood of this is very eerie at the start .It isn't really a Halloween piece , but it seemed timely to ask a few questions and Halloween seems to be getting bigger every year here in Aus, when 30 years ago , as a kid it was almost unknown. I think the simpsons (ie the Halloween specials once a year) has influenced us down under!

I've had this performed many times as a stand alone piece, and only twice (at the Sydney Opera house) in its true "place" - the 2nd movement of my string quartet called Winter.

I like big structures and so I prefer it as the middle movement of Winter.

Any thoughts on which is better - stand alone or as a 2nd (but still named) movement in a 3 movement quartet. An unusual feature of the quartet is that all 3 movements are all in minor keys. (e,b,e). I don't find that a problem myself but does too much Minor bother people?

A specific question : what do u think of the end of the piece and the last note being a fade to nothing single note on the violin? The violinist here does it ok but not spectacularly btw...

I wonder if a piano version would work well?

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What Mariza said about the structure of music piqued my interest. I have several questions that I'd like to pose, that are ultimately related to this topic (even if they don't seem to be at first):

1) What do you, Mariza, think of the structure of my Threnody? Do you consider it more on the "natural coastline" end of the spectrum, or more on the "man-made sea wall" end?

2) Have you ever listened to Bruckner's symphonies? If so, what do you make of their structure? If not, perhaps I can briefly describe them as being "block-structured", in the sense that Bruckner, unlike many other composers of his time, and unlike most composers today, thought in terms of blocks, rather than a continually-evolving strand with smooth transitions from one section to another. His music has almost no transitions between sections at all; rather, one musical idea is presented and developed within a self-contained block, and then the next idea, which may at first seem very sudden and almost incongruous with the previous section, is then presented right after, in an abrupt "quantum leap", with nothing in between to transition from one to the other. Once one familiarizes oneself with the block structure, however, Bruckner's "logic" becomes clear, and one begins to appreciate the "language" or "grammar" of the blocks, and what the composer wants to "say" with them.

Now, the reason I asked (1), is because of the way I wrote it. When I started, I did not have a clear idea of what it will be (in fact, I didn't even know if it will be a Threnody, or a Saint-Saens-style carnival of firecrackers type of work); I did, however, have a number of sketches representing possible structures to follow.  For each of these possible structures, I sketched out tentative details, and eventually settled upon the Threnody idea rather than the carnival of firecrackers idea. That started out as a general, vague idea of "celebration -> tragedy -> requiem". But what should be in each section was unknown at the time. I sketched out various possibilities, and eventually decided upon borrowing Handel's theme and suitably butchering it for my nefarious purposes. :-P  At first, Handel's theme was the only "content" of the piece -- the entire piece was envisioned to be somehow derived from Handel's theme in various forms. The fireworks imitation effects in the winds and strings were an idea adapted from my earlier carnival of firecrackers sketches.  Originally, I didn't have any representation for the stray firecracker flying into the air and landing on the roof -- that was actually an afterthought that came to me as I was writing that part of the piece, when it occurred to me that it would be a natural continuation of the winds' "fireworks imitations", that also serves the purposes of the story.  The descent into chaos was also something that I had no idea of until I actually began writing it.   Then the cacophonic crash as the roof beam collapsed -- that took me many tries and many failed attempts before I found something that "worked". The encoding of my schoolmate's name into music was also something that only occurred to me as I worked with that transition passage; originally I was only going to do minor key versions of Handel's theme.  The final lamentation melody was also something that only really took shape when I got there -- though the whole time, the bittersweet reappearance of Handel's theme at the very end has always been the ultimate goal.

Now I should add, that all the while in the above process, the 5-minute time limit was ever on my mind, and many times I went back to revise what was already written so that it would leave adequate time to transition back to the bittersweet ending.  (For example, the original sketch had many more occurrences of Handel's theme in the first section as a gradual buildup before the climax, but that would leave inadequate time for everything else to fit within 5 mins.) Also, thoughout the process, I was constantly polishing and refining especially the transition passages, so that the piece would sound more coherent as a whole.

The reason I'm describing this in so much detail, is because I'm curious as to how this relates to your view on musical structure. Now that I've laid bare the ugly innards of my Threnody, would you consider it more on the "natural coastline" end of the scale, or more on the "man-made sea walls" end?  Or perhaps a "man-made sea wall artifically made to resemble a natural coastline"?  How does it compare to your initial impressions of the piece?

As for (2), my guess is that it would fall more in the "man-made sea wall" end of your scale, but I wanted to confirm.

Och, Teoh,

I'm glad to carry out the dialog you propose, but please give me some time. It is late and I need to go rest now.

The natural coastline is a model for a certain type of music, in which my compositions (so far) fit into, and in which in my perception Paul's compositions do, too. Or "should"!!! (OMG, I wrote "should"!!!)

It doesn't apply to music in general, and I don't want to imply or suggest such a thing.

Have a good night, and let's talk later.


P.S. Your Threnody does NOT have "ugly innards"!

 Hi Nicola,

Thanks very much for listening and commenting.

I agree that following your own instinct is often one if the best things we can do, however it is nice to hear other peoples opinions and advice. And even though most (?) people wouldn't change a piece that's already completed, they will keep the suggestions, if only subconsciously and often" use" them in the future, or at least be partly influenced by them for future works.

As an example, I will be more careful in the future to avoid being long winded, at the risk of losing peoples interest.  However, if new piece that I wrote "ended up" long bc that's how I strongly felt it should be developed, then I would surely leave it long - but these bits of opinions and advice nevertheless would be in my mind. And that's a good thing. Mr Teah remarked in another of my posts on the 3rd movement of "the fury" that bringing in the very high notes too early lessened a later passage of high violin notes. I didn't change the piece - I had never intended too, but it was useful advice.

To me an important factor in listening to music is multiple listenings. Few pieces of music will reveal all their goodness in one hearing. Some will be very attractive on first listening and only "get a bit better" with repeated listenings - an eg might be Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz , while others may not sound so thrilling at first but have immense hidden depth, like say Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

An inherant problem in music and particularly a forum like this is we simply don't have the luxury to repeat listen to most things, so first impressions are important - and this is very different to "final" impressions. We are almost literally trying to judge a book by its cover.

Having said that, it was very pleasant to read your comment and a comment like that is just as useful as having a "id change that" comment and a lovely thing to read and to feel reassured by.

Thanks again,


Nikola said:

It seems that some people want changes in every composition just for the sake of change. No need to destroy the natural flow of the story only to prove something that doesn't need to be proved.

To me this is brilliant piece of music. Too long? Maybe, but I don't mind... and maybe even not too long. There's enough variety including some smart and subtle changes and variations in composition. It's very atmospheric and probably so far the best thing I've heard on this board.

When you compose, simply follow your guts... you're good at it. You don't need me to tell you what to do.

Hi Frederick,

Thanks for listening - your feedback, as always is very much appreciated.

The 2nd part you mentioned is just a fraction before my favourite part which is at about 8:17 when the viola goes arco and counter-melodies the vlns. 

Interesting that you mentioned the cello taking the lead, bc I "workshopped" this a lot and probably wasn't creative enough to find a good way for it to contribute more to the melody. Or possibly a good solution may not even "exist", ( which is a philosophical q that I always ask myself when composing) - although I doubt it. The only time it does is at 4:00 and even then its sharing some of the glory with one of those damn violins.

Thanx Frederick
Fredrick zinos said:


This is IMHO one of the most effective and beautiful compositions to be posted on this forum. I felt it was wistful and full of longing, much harder sentiments to portray than "Halloween" type eeriness. Your music expresses loss, melancholy and loneliness but does so without the least hint of saccharine sentimentality. There are places like at 6:44 and 7:59 where the writing seems almost divinely inspired.

I didn't think the texture was too heavy or thick and I didn't think the piece was too long. To quote Stravinsky "I wish to be so long in the paradise."

It would have been interesting to have the cello play the main theme (arco) while the viola and two violin played a rising motive, the inverse of the pizzicato figure in the viola with which the composition begins and ends.

If the piece reminds me of any other composition it is the Albinoni, and I mean that as a compliment. Bravo. You've given us all a lesson.

I vote for 2nd movement of a three movement work for quartet.

Actaully I should have been clearer with that - the proper title is just Midnight. The Halloween bit was just 
Nikola said:

I agree that this piece doesn't evoke Halloween atmosphere. That's the only thing about this piece that "doesn't work" - the title. It should be changed into something else. "Loss, melancholy and loneliness" like Fredrick mentioned is much closer to the real atmosphere.

Beautiful piece that I will for sure listen more times.

Well thanks Nikola - I appreciate it! Are u going to write a set of piano pieces, or u just leaving the vampire one an isolated piece?
Nikola said:

I understand Paul, but when I hear something good, I must defend it :D

Thanx Susan,

Love those sonatas, especially the 3 fugues in the sonatas and of course the chaconne...

 Susan Partlan said:

Paul, I really enjoyed listening to this beautiful piece. At moments it reminded me of the Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin, but richer, because of the other instruments creating beautiful harmonies and lines. It didn't seem too long to me. And I didn't think of Halloween or anything eerie. It is a reflective piece.

Ah Paul, 'Midnight' - this has a delightfully mesmerising bass ostinato which one does not tire of for the entire piece, the lilting melody moves along like an evening mist and reflects the title beautifully. I love this composition. Congratulations on wonderful addition to post modern music.

Mark Matthews  

Thanks Mark, glad u like it.

I never really thought of it as postmodern but I guess that's a valid description!

Sadly I have been responding to this thread without even listening to this piece... Fortunately, I finally got around to it, and I have to say, it's a very, very nice piece.  I don't find it eerie at all. I consider it more as a nocturne, a kind of midnight dance. The overall tone is very appropriate to a suite themed Winter.  The structure is also pretty clear.  While it's a bit on the long side, the string writing is also pretty good, and relishing in the subtle interplay between the quartet instruments doesn't make it feel boring, just relaxing.  I liked it a lot.

I don't find an all-minor-key quartet unusual at all. In fact, I say, go big or go home! If you're gonna do minor, go all out minor, don't hold back. Of course, that does mean you're removing one axis of contrast from your palette, so you'd have to use contrasts elsewhere to maintain interest.

Annoyingly enough, my browser clipped off the last 3 bars in the playback so I couldn't hear the ending in question. I think it should work OK, based on the overall mood of the entire movement.

I don't know about a piano version... I think it would require major reworking, and maybe even rewrite, to account for the differences in timbre. A lot of the interweaving lines wouldn't quite have the same effect on the piano as it does on, say, high register viola. The feeling just isn't quite there. I think it should stay as a quartet piece. :-)

Hello Paul.

I have listened to this piece several more times on different days, each time trying to create the right conditions to focus on it peacefully.  I think I have been able to take it in a lot better by now, compared to my first few hearings.  And my perception of it has changed.

My perception now is that the melody does evolve naturally.  Also, I am able now to apprehend a lot more of the content which actually - I now realize - does undergo significant variability throughout the piece.

I continue thinking of the piece as enormously beautiful.  I think now that it does evolve naturally, intelligently, and beautifully. 

Some of the emotions or state of spirit touch me very much, come close to heart.  One example is when the viola comes in at 8:20.  Wow.  There are several other such wows.

The difficulty for me as a listener, and the reason why it took me so long to develop a feeling of relative familiarity with this piece, is simply that the flow of emotions differs from my own, and so the inner identification took me a long time to achieve.

I experience the piece as very beautiful, in some ways immediately, obviously beautiful, and in other ways requiring habituation to take in.

In short, it was my ears, not your voice, that was the trouble.

(After this, now I have to be extra careful providing feedback to others, don't I ?)

You are a highly talented composer.


Mariza, it's not altogether your fault... I think that we all experience that "impedance mismatch" when we listen to an idiom that we're not familiar with. Sometimes I experience that even across different works by the same composer.  Nevertheless, I still think there's some value in stating your initial impressions. Sometimes the composer needs to take that into account, in order to better "ease" his audience into his style of music.

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