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Sonata No. 1 in C Major "Summer Love"
1. "Origin of Ambivalence, Chaos" (Allegro leggiero)
2. "After the Coma" (Lento e placido)
3. "Summer's Valediction" (Presto)

This came out to be one of my favorites, and whilst it has been a heap of work, it has been very fun and I learned so much. I present for critique and analysis my first true Piano Sonata, Number 1 in C, "Summer Love", and I ask for 20 minutes of your valuable time to listen. Of course, as many here can probably understand, I suggest you listen through in one session if time allows, as the movements relate to one another, and the entire composition tells a story (much like a movie, it is frustrating to only watch half, right?)

Unlike the last work I posted (A rather simple, not very contrasting Sonatina in the style of mood/relaxing music) this is meant to be a full blown composition, with movements contrasting one another whilst complimenting one another. My Sonatina was geared towards the lower intermediate level, this would certainly be more on the advanced level. The piece is intended to be a true (hopefully good) sit down and really 'listen to' work of music.

I don't have a lot else to say other than to provide a brief summary of the movements. I've intentionally left the movement's titling a little vague and open to interpretation, but there certainly is a story being told- it could be your story too.

1.The first movement is meant to be unstable not only in the emotions it conveys, but also musically and most importantly harmonically. Moments of beauty, only to be met with moments of going off the rails. From a composition standpoint, I really tried to challenge myself by constantly modulating (I think the movement explores 7 key signatures) I also challenged myself by changing the time signature often, but not in a way that makes the rhythm hard to interpret- and hopefully not in a disjointed way either. Much like a key signature modulation, I tried to 'modulate' time signatures by keeping the transitions smooth.

2.The second movement represents more stability- and a certain 'calm after the storm' of the first movement. There are subtle hints of the instability of the first movement but overall the piece tries to remain calm and collected. The movement explores 64th notes that are very tricky and some unconventional rhythms (in my opinion)

3.The third movement nods farewell to the calm, explores the future, and acknowledges (and almost accepts) certain change and a wailing despair- only to be met with these sudden, recurring moments of beauty and passion ( similar to a Rondo form) There is a struggle of clarity over chaos. The entire movement as a whole is almost a recapitulation of all the ideas presented in the first two movements, but it also tries to present them in new forms.

There's always room to improve, all comments welcome. 

Youtube allows you to listen without having to switch between the movements, however, Soundcloud offers better sound quality. The choice is yours!

First movement soundcloud

Second movement soundcloud

Third movement soundcloud

Full Sonata Youtube

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HS,

No offence taken and I agree with a lot of your last post, but I'd like to just say a few things.

Regarding composing atonally,  consonance and dissonance are discerned as such and are exploited for unrest and repose.  An aural sensitivity to their effect and placement is critical in a successful work. Admittedly it may be hard to hear if one is not familiar with a lack of gravity, but it's a bit unkind to call it bland - if anything, the lack of a tonal pull makes you cherish every intervals quality in a more intimate way. There is no disregard of the consonant/dissonant relationship, more a finer appreciation of the relationship between the two.

Just for the record, I write in an extended tonality and will very rarely distribute equally all 12 tones in a regular fashion alla true atonality or dodecaphony. In fact my harmonic principles are based on exotic/synthetic scales and chords derived from them. So you see, I'm still a traditionalist at heart.

My post to David may have been misleading. I love consonance and do not find it boring at all. I only found the 1st 3 chords, for want of a better word, lazy. (sorry David, but HS planted the word in my head, because his last paragraph is spot on).

I too spotted the horn theme in the 2nd mvt. from Sibelius' 5th, so there you go David, another reason to push a little harder.

 

David,

You are doing damn well at composing so far. I think you are producing better music than I did at your age. My thirst for ever more complex harmony was there from the start, it's just that  I had to make a living writing pap for media. You have not failed at all here, you're on a path and have moved several large steps forward imo.

Very well done David, enjoyable and impressive at the same time, which is quite an accomplishment really.  The comments of others here are perceptive and valid and that's why we post stuff here, to get away from the well meant but questionable comments we get at home.

 
Others have better perceptions about this piece than I do and I certainly respect that, but they are minor quibbles except for maybe the thought that as good as this work is, it doesn't quite stand apart from the influences that have brought you to this point. No great revelation there, I'm sure we all are looking for our own style, and you should be very happy with your progress so far!

I liked the third movement most.  Very flowing and restful, ethereal. The only objection I would have is the agitato at m95.  It seemed too extreme and foreign to the rest of the piece.  The other interludes between cantabiles seem to blend better. But really, can you read the C# sections with all the accidentals and double sharps and flats in a single measure.  There has to be a simpler way to notate this.  Or maybe just take it up to G maj.  For example m 111, if C## is notated at D nat. you eliminate the next D nat and the C#.  There are so many accidentals which are unnecessary.  I'm all about simplicity in notating and reading.  M126, why isn't the Ab and Bb simply G and A?  You could eliminate about half the accidentals and make this a piece people would enjoy playing.  I enjoyed listening, but some sections would not be fun to play. 

     This is somewhere between modern and romantic.  Certainly there is nothing technically difficult but would be somewhat of a challenge for some pianists.  With simpler notation the challenge would be worth the effort.



Lawrence Aurich said:

I liked the third movement most.  Very flowing and restful, ethereal. The only objection I would have is the agitato at m95.  It seemed too extreme and foreign to the rest of the piece.  The other interludes between cantabiles seem to blend better. But really, can you read the C# sections with all the accidentals and double sharps and flats in a single measure.  There has to be a simpler way to notate this.  Or maybe just take it up to G maj.  For example m 111, if C## is notated at D nat. you eliminate the next D nat and the C#.  There are so many accidentals which are unnecessary.  I'm all about simplicity in notating and reading.  M126, why isn't the Ab and Bb simply G and A?  You could eliminate about half the accidentals and make this a piece people would enjoy playing.  I enjoyed listening, but some sections would not be fun to play. 

     This is somewhere between modern and romantic.  Certainly there is nothing technically difficult but would be somewhat of a challenge for some pianists.  With simpler notation the challenge would be worth the effort.

Duly noted Lawrence, and I am in full agreement after taking your suggestion into account. I think the confusing notation resulted from using transposing functions in the notation software. While I went through the full score a good amount of times with a fine comb, I simply wasn't looking for things like that. I should have kept that in mind and not relied on the technology so much. The measure 111 as you suggested is almost embarrassingly confusing with the way that is notated. 

I am obviously largely influenced by Romantic music, as you can tell- and yes, lots of modern influence as well. I think we as composers pull from any and all influences, whether consciously or subconsciously. 

Thank you very much for your feedback and suggestions, I appreciate the time spent.



Ingo Lee said:

Very well done David, enjoyable and impressive at the same time, which is quite an accomplishment really.  The comments of others here are perceptive and valid and that's why we post stuff here, to get away from the well meant but questionable comments we get at home.


Others have better perceptions about this piece than I do and I certainly respect that, but they are minor quibbles except for maybe the thought that as good as this work is, it doesn't quite stand apart from the influences that have brought you to this point. No great revelation there, I'm sure we all are looking for our own style, and you should be very happy with your progress so far!

Thanks Ingo for listening and taking a moment to share your thoughts on the piece. It makes my day when anyone, anywhere finds something I wrote enjoyable, and that's really why I write, and I think why many of us write- to have others hear our expressions of ourselves and our thoughts and emotions. 

I am, once again, in agreement that the piece does lack a lot of the "David Lilly" style. I can probably pick apart almost every thought in the piece and trace it back to the original influence I got the idea from. I am ok with this though, because eventually I'll learn how to take these ideas and completely make them my own. And I'm also OK with it because this was my first attempt at a full blown Sonata, so, I may have aired too much on the side of caution and did not creatively stray far enough away from some influences. That is a fair critique and probably one I needed to hear because the same thought was in the back of my head. This piece is actually way more in a Romantic period fashion then I usually write in. If I am to write another Sonata it may focus less on trying to slave to a period influence and be completely modern. We will see. 


I think Bernstein does that in his Symphony #1, too. My understanding is that was his approach to his "serious" music (at least early on) before it become more theatrical.

Mike Hewer said:

HS,

The only technique I can think of  that could be considered close to what you are suggesting was used by Bernstein in his 2nd symphony, 'The Age of Anxiety'. He uses a form of variation technique in the first mvt.,whereby there is not a single theme that is developed, rather he has an initial idea, then the next variation takes a snippet of this, develops it and during that development, he  finds another interesting idea that becomes the basis for the next variation and so on. It's a kind of rolling variation that is not tied to a structured theme and has immense potential when it comes to symphonic developmental processes.

H. S. Teoh said:

Mike, your comment gave me an interesting thought.  What about writing a piece where the motif actually doesn't matter? Where the "point" of the piece lies in how the motif is treated, the overall structure, etc., and where you can substitute the motif with just about anything else and the piece still "works"?

Hmm.  Ingo says, "I'm sure we all are looking for our own style", and David replies, "the piece does lack a lot of the "David Lilly" style." and "If I am to write another Sonata it may focus less on trying to slave to a period influence...".

Well, to each his own, I suppose, but my stance is that I don't care to "look for my own style", because I already have my own style.  The way I write is uniquely my own, and I am not at all bothered by the fact that it happens to be easy to trace my influences. So what? I care to write good music. I don't care to deliberately avoid what I fear others may perceive as someone else's style.  I feel that I don't have to try to be different from everyone else, because I'm already different.  The way I treat, say, a given theme, let's say a melody fragment from one of Beethoven's symphonies, just for argument's sake, is guaranteed to be very different from the way Beethoven treated it.  Perhaps you may say that's because my compositional skills are nowhere near Beethoven's, and I'd agree, but even if my skills were at the level of Beethoven's, I still wouldn't develop the melody the same way he does, simply because I am not him!!  I find this common thought of "I want to find my own voice" and "I want to be different" and "I want to be unique, just like everyone else" (har har) rather silly and quite irritating, in fact, and IMNSHO a sign of weakness and insecurity.  Why can't I just be who I am without fearing that I might just happen to be the same as others?  Why do I have to base my self-worth on avoiding what others have done?  Why not rather avoid something because it was badly done, rather than the fact that it was done at all (and it may actually be a very good idea to begin with)?  I don't see period influence as slavery in any way, not even metaphorically; I see rather that the fear of being the same as others is actually the real slavery. Just my arrogant opinion,  of course. :-P

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.  This wasn't directed at anyone in particular, so I apologize in advance if I offended anyone.

"I'm sure we all are looking for our own style" is a sweeping generalization and sweeping generalizations are logically fallacious because they fail to allow for any exceptions.
 
H. S. Teoh said:

Hmm.  Ingo says, "I'm sure we all are looking for our own style", and David replies, "the piece does lack a lot of the "David Lilly" style." and "If I am to write another Sonata it may focus less on trying to slave to a period influence...".

Well, to each his own, I suppose, but my stance is that I don't care to "look for my own style", because I already have my own style.  The way I write is uniquely my own, and I am not at all bothered by the fact that it happens to be easy to trace my influences. So what? I care to write good music. I don't care to deliberately avoid what I fear others may perceive as someone else's style.  I feel that I don't have to try to be different from everyone else, because I'm already different.  The way I treat, say, a given theme, let's say a melody fragment from one of Beethoven's symphonies, just for argument's sake, is guaranteed to be very different from the way Beethoven treated it.  Perhaps you may say that's because my compositional skills are nowhere near Beethoven's, and I'd agree, but even if my skills were at the level of Beethoven's, I still wouldn't develop the melody the same way he does, simply because I am not him!!  I find this common thought of "I want to find my own voice" and "I want to be different" and "I want to be unique, just like everyone else" (har har) rather silly and quite irritating, in fact, and IMNSHO a sign of weakness and insecurity.  Why can't I just be who I am without fearing that I might just happen to be the same as others?  Why do I have to base my self-worth on avoiding what others have done?  Why not rather avoid something because it was badly done, rather than the fact that it was done at all (and it may actually be a very good idea to begin with)?  I don't see period influence as slavery in any way, not even metaphorically; I see rather that the fear of being the same as others is actually the real slavery. Just my arrogant opinion,  of course. :-P

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.  This wasn't directed at anyone in particular, so I apologize in advance if I offended anyone.

That voice has to change or you're pushing up daisies before your time.  Your criticism of that composer was probably justified in that he continued to write in the same style without progression.  I certainly noticed a progression in the symphonies of Beethoven.  It is obvious that he went from relatively simple to complex, from short melodies to longer ones.  But is increasing complexity a sign of maturity or improvement?  In this computer age we could make the opposite argument. In fact is too easy to load a score with all types of trills, turns, impossible riffs an unplayable rhythms  which add nothing and indeed distract from the experience of music.  So many scores would be improved by simplification not added complexity.  So what does finding ones voice really mean?   Maybe it's separating the chaff from the grain, sifting the sand from the gold and knowing which is which.

It's funny how we mainly only laud the composers who do have an original voice, the ones who sum up the zeitgeist in their own unique way and pass it on to the next generation, thereby starting the process over again and ensuring the art does not stagnate.

Having said that, HS has hit on a truth in that the greats are just being who they are, which is how we all should be. Uniqueness, if it's there, will be inevitable.

@John...

I didn't realise 'Jeremiah' had the same technique, I'll look out for that next time I hear it. That's a good symphony too, especially the moving soprano lament.

HS said;

I find this common thought of "I want to find my own voice" and "I want to be different" and "I want to be unique, just like everyone else" (har har) rather silly and quite irritating, in fact, and IMNSHO a sign of weakness and insecurity.  Why can't I just be who I am without fearing that I might just happen to be the same as others? 

@Lawrence: In my younger, megalomanic days, I strove for complexity -- the more complex the better, the more inscrutible, the better, and so on.  Needless to say, the kind of music I wrote in those days wasn't very good.

These days, I've come to realize that less is better. Quite often, implied harmony is far better than overly filled-out, spelt out harmony. (That's not to say there isn't a time and place for that, of course; climactic tuttis obviously want the chords all filled out. But this should be the exception rather than the norm.) A fugue that has moments where less than all voices participate in the texture is far better than one where every voice wants to play contrapuntal gymnastics with every other voice, all the time.  Sometimes, a solo melody is just the thing you need, where no amount of cleverness in writing the accompaniment would work better.  Often the best way to orchestrate a passage is to do it with the minimum number of instruments, rather than trying to find a role for every instrument even when they really would be better off being silent. Sometimes the best chord progressions are "boring" old I, IV, V chords -- skillfully sequenced -- rather than fancy overly-elaborate modified jazz chords that only tire the ear out. And so on and so forth.

Of course, this doesn't mean that simplicity is necessarily better; an amateur can write simple stuff too, which is also boring and not of much interest.  There is a great difference between an amateur writing simple stuff, and a master writing apparently-simple, but actually highly skilled and finely crafted stuff. And there's also a great difference between amateurish "complex" music that contains everything and the kitchen sink thrown into it (and which is rather ineffective for all the effort put into it), vs. complex music in the hands of a master, who knows exactly what to put in, and when.

How to measure progress? Who knows... who cares! The important thing, to me, is to always strive to go beyond what you have already accomplished, to improve upon what you feel you have already mastered, to tackle new aspects that you have never fully explored before. As soon as a composer stops honing his craft, he starts churning out boring, cookie-cutter stuff of not much value.

David, I listened to this twice and enjoyed it very much. The 2nd movement is probably my favorite as well. You definitely have an interesting and engaging chromatically tonal style and a good sense of structure and counterpoint.

You've said you are looking for critical feedback, so just to build on what a few others have commented on, I do share Mike's slight allergy to the opening bars, though perhaps mine is a bit less acute. One thing I don't think anyone has yet mentioned is its use of parallel 6ths. IMO, these have such a strong association with easy listening-type piano music. There's something about this particular kind of parallelism that rings to me of a shallow complexity (i.e., trying to make a simple melody sound more *complex* by adding the 6th below it). I don't think that was your intention, of course, but I do think it's a large part of the reason why measure 5 (which is lovely) provides such relief. If I were to make a recommendation, it would be to play with just a few of those sixths in the right hand to give the lower voice an actual counterpoint to the top melody.... Brahms does this very well in his famous A-major Intermezzo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20Gb0JcviRA

Re: this consonance vs. dissonance debate, I tend to think of it in non-musical terms. What is the most compelling story? The story of a complete innocent who encounters chaos but remains unchanged at the end? The story of an innocent who encounters chaos and returns changed? Or the story of the mostly innocent who encounters the chaos that was in them from the beginning and returns changed by the wisdom of that revelation?

Here is a pedantic comment but important, I think. Composer's intentions be damned, but I strongly believe the opening of the 2nd movement (and its return) should be written in Db Major, not C# Major. Especially since this is a piano piece and there will be literally no difference whatsoever in execution. 5 flats vs 7 sharps is significantly easier to parse and will mostly help avoid those crazily-spelled double-sharp chords (e.g., m. 39). As Lawrence mentioned, I would definitely recommend spending time going through the whole thing to see if there are simpler ways to spell this all out. For example, you use measure 30 of the last movement to change keys from F-minor to the totally unrelated D#-minor/F#-Major(?), but the chord at this measure is an oddly spelled C major (the dominant of F-minor). The next several measures still belong to F-minor (and are even spelled as such). This section arrives quickly at a chord spelled as Eb-major at measure 45, followed by a cadence on a written A# at m. 50. Only then does a new section finally begin that is obviously in F#-Major (m. 51). Should maybe this whole transition passage maybe just have stayed in F-minor and been spelled enharmonically?

Finally, I would always put in metronome markings, even if they are just approximations and delineations of For example, an "Allegro leggiero" in 12/8 that accelerandos to a "Presto" in 4/4, starting again with "Andante scherzando" in 12/8 then "Scherzando" which passionately leads to an "A Tempo" marking is just leaving a whole lot to interpretation.

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