Music Composers Unite!
This is another older piece that I have recently been reworking. It was written as the 3rd in a set of 4 songs for soprano & orchestra based on English translations of Rilke poetry.
Sorry, I don't yet have a shareable score. As always, any feedback is most welcome, even just on the MIDI orchestra, which I am trying to make as "real" as I can.
THE VAST NIGHT
Often I gazed at you in wonder: stood at the window begun
the day before, stood and gazed at you in wonder. As yet
the new city seemed forbidden to me, and the strange
unpersuadable landscape darkened as though
I didn’t exist. Even the nearest Things
didn’t care whether I understood them. The street
thrust itself up to the lamppost: I saw it was foreign.
Over there–a room, feelable, clear in the lamplight–,
I already took part; they noticed, and closed the shutters.
Stood. Then a child began crying. I knew what the mothers
all around, in the houses, were capable of–, and knew
the inconsolable origins of all tears.
Or a woman’s voice sang and reached a little beyond
expectation, or downstairs an old man let out
a cough that was full of reproach, as though his body were right
and the gentler world mistaken. And then the hour
struck–, but I counted too late, it tumbled on past me.–
Like a new boy at school, who is finally allowed to join in,
but he can’t reach the ball, is helpless at all the games
the others pursue with such ease, and he stands there staring
into the distance,–where–?: I stood there and suddenly
grasped that it was you: you were playing with me, grown-up
Night, and I gazed at you in wonder. Where the towers
were raging, where with averted fate
a city surrounded me, and indecipherable mountains
camped against me, and strangeness, in narrowing circles,
prowled around my randomly flickering emotions–:
it was then that in all your magnificence
you were not ashamed to know me. Your breath moved tenderly
over my face. And, spread across solemn distances,
your smile entered my heart.
--Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by Stephen Mitchell)
This is a very beautiful piece. The melody does not follow a traditional development, but is suggestive of a "floating" sequence of thoughts that is similar to what the fragmentary observations that poem presents. But like in the poem, there is an underlying though not obvious connecting thread.
IMO, this is a case where the synthetic voice not singing the words leaves a serious void and makes the piece much harder to interpret, and the connection between words and music is lost.
I enjoyed the orchestration very much. Although I know nothing about orchestration myself, I can say that as a listener the piece was filled with fascinating sound nuances that were captivating to me.
What was that at the end? Gave me the feeling of a gun shot. Was that her smile penetrating his heart?
Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful comments (as always)! Yes, I've got to figure out how to get someone to sing the darn thing...
The ending wasn't intended as a gunshot. Maybe a sucker punch? :/ I read a menacing, almost violent, quality to the text and wanted to bring that back at the end. Maybe it's too much??
This looks like a beast of a poem to set. I'm curious about how you handled the poem's challenges in the vocal part, but without a score or a real singer, I can't really say anything about the text setting.
What I can say, though, is that the orchestration does a lovely job of capturing the atmosphere of the poem. I second Mariza's comment about the fascinating sound combinations--there's a real playfulness with instrumentation here, and lots of exciting colours and textures just seem to emerge from it with a wonderful spontaneity.
I kind of wonder, though, if there are too many good ideas for a piece this short. While all the changes in atmosphere and texture are nice in the small scale, I started to lose track of how they related to each other, and to the overall course/dramatic arc of the piece. Obviously a lot of this has to do with the text and the vocal line, and I'm sure the form would make more sense to me if there were a score (or a live recording!), but I still think a larger-scale sense of tension and release* could make this piece even better--and mirror the poem's sense of a series of disjointed images all adding up to a single meaning.
*[for example, consistently increasing or decreasing in intensity over a whole series of sections and texture changes so that they all feel like a path toward/away from a single goal rather than a series of detours]
Apart from that, wow! Please let me reiterate how much I like the orchestration. I'd love to see a score to this.
I'm curious: what composers/pieces influenced/inspired this (if it's possible to pin down any specific ones, that is!)?
Thanks for the very kind and thoughtful comments, Nicholas. I've attached an (old, rough draft) piano reduction score, if you are interested enough to listen again for the text-setting.
Ah, the curse of too many good ideas... :D
Well, you are right that the setting is supposed to represent the "vastness" of the landscape described in the poem (which I read as more about an emotional range than a physical one). Of course, a performer singing the text will help make more sense and bring more continuity to the varying musical textures. In reworking it recently, though, I have also been playing with rhythm and dynamics to emphasize/deemphasize certain structural points. Perhaps I need to do more...
Also, this is the third song in a planned set of four. While they are all different, there are a lot of common musical material between them (most notably in the last song, which is intended as a sort of summation of the preceding three).
I can't really pinpoint a specific composer that has influenced or inspired this song cycle (although I am half-seriously considering calling them my "Four First Songs"). In general, my go-to's are Britten, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, Puccini, R. Strauss. I'm not sure this sounds like any of them, though...
Thanks again for the time spent listening. As I noted elsewhere, I have very much enjoyed your music and plan to seek out more.
Thanks for posting the piano reduction... I found it very helpful, and it made a lot of things clearer.
After listening again with the score, I think the piece is nicely unified with regard to harmonic and melodic ideas, so I have to partially retract my previous comment about "too many ideas." It's actually quite elegant how much mileage you get out of just a few very simple motifs in the accompaniment.
I think I may have initially perceived it as having too many ideas because there ARE a lot of orchestrational ideas, and the changes between them are sometimes abrupt. This in itself isn't a bad thing, but I think these transitions might be even more satisfying if there were more of a gradual build to some of them--I think a lot of this ties to my previous comment about large-scale tension and release. (This may also partially be a matter of subjective taste on my part, of course!)
I found this piece's language very relatable but couldn't link it to any one specific composer or style, which is why I asked about your influences. And yes, I agree that this doesn't really sound like any of the influences you listed (maybe a little Britten here and there), but maybe the fact that these composers are bouncing around in the back of your mind is part of what made it sound so accessible (to me, at least). Anyway, originality + accessibility is a difficult combination to achieve, so I congratulate you on that!
Thanks, Nicholas. If you can tell me the specific transitions you think are maybe too abrupt (by timing or measure # on the score), that would be much appreciated!
Hi Driscoll. I think I might not have been clear enough in my previous comment. To me, none of the individual changes were too abrupt. Instead, the issue was that over the course of the piece as a whole, I started to feel a sense of stagnation when nearly every transition simply abandons the rhythmic/textural energy of the preceding section rather than building off it.
To create more "causality" between sections (and, by extension, a bit more large-scale interest and shape to the form), you could consider preserving some elements of the previous section (e.g. level of rhythmic activity, direction/shape of lines, register of a particular instrument/family, motive) across the transition without any break, then begin exploring them in a new way in the next section.
You mentioned Richard Strauss... his Alpine Symphony is one of my favourite pieces right now, and it uses a lot of these kinds of transitions to build a single 50-minute dramatic arc out of many small sections. For example, I like how the pastoral horn melody at about 17:23 in this video starts to be fragmented and sequenced at the start of the next section, at 17:46. Same motive, same level of rhythmic activity, same register, same shape--but as the phrase is chopped up and it starts to get passed between instruments, it starts to take on a whole new energy. (Similarly, I like how the whole section at 17:46 serves as a long, seamless transition between the pastoral nature of the previous section and the tense, sinister nature of the next section--serving to ratchet up the overall tension and propel the listener forward to the next section, all while maintaining its own identity as a "movement" in the symphony).
There are lots of other examples of causality between sections in the Strauss piece (I love how the weird staccato oboe note that is quietly interjected between phrases in the "calm before the storm" movement slowly becomes the "raindrops" that drive the whole ensuing "storm" section).
You probably know most of this already (you already do it quite nicely in the voice line of this piece), but I find that (for me, now that I'm not actively studying composition anymore) reminders never hurt! Hope that makes things a little clearer.