I have been away, and not reading my forums, so I didn't know that this one had disappeared, however briefly. I've been doing some reconnecting and rejoined yesterday. I thought I would post something for you. I recently completed my fourth symphony, and thought I would post an excerpt. I may post a link to the whole thing at some point later (it's 36 minutes), after I've done the final clean-up on the score.

The symphony has 3 main movements separated by interludes. This is a scrolling score video of the first of these interludes. Let me know what you think.

For those of you who (like me) who obsess on software, this was created in Sibelius and realized using NotePerformer and Spitfire Audio's BBCSO Core. I have since switched to BBCSO Pro, but the only instruments that effects in this excerpt are English Horn, Bass Clarinet, and Contrabassoon, which are the normal NotePerformer sounds. (You won't really notice them.) If anyone wants to discuss using the BBCSO sounds, I am willing to discuss. I had loads of problems getting it to work properly, the PRO version at least - it required a major upgrade of my already hi-end computer.



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  • Hi Stephen. Very nice! Impressionistic - sort of.  I like the slighly dark undercurrent.  Only a minute - whets the appetite - definitely wanted to hear more. 

    • It's interesting that you chose Impressionistic to describe it. I have often labeled myself as impressionistic, at least in my orchestral music. This piece, perhaps, draws more from Bartok and Lutoslawski, but its companion piece, a trumpet concerto, which I started at the same time, with my "notations" method is probably more impressionist. In fact, there is a Notation that sounds a little like Daphnis, although as it progresses (I'm still working on it) is sounding a little more like something out of the Planets (perhaps, Venus). I often compose using textures, which lends itself to the impressionist feel. My String Quartet No 2 - at least in part - seems to lean on impressions more than symbols. I'll post that at some point. (It sounds really good in BBCSO Pro with some tweaking.) It's pretty hard core aleatoricism, though, and not to everyone's tastes.

      The dark undercurrent is definitely there. I've been dealing with a lot of death lately, and there is likely more to come this year. It seems like my parents' generation (and more) have decided to pick up stakes and move on. The Symphony may be dedicated to the memory of one of my mentors, who died a few days ago.

  • I agree with Greg, it hints at good stuff to follow. Care to talk about composing processes? Are they traits of Ligeti's micropolyphony I hear?

    • Symphony 4 notes (and draft recording)

      You can find the full notes at the above link to my blog (above). I never thought of the connection to Ligeti, which I suppose is probably true, although I think of it more like Lutoslawski's aleatoric polyphony written out. I was working on my second symphony when I attended the premiere of Lutoslawski's 3rd symphony. There were already some similarities in interests, and I had already used aleatoric techniques in previous works (Euphonium concerto, 3 Sketches for 3 Brass). Over the years, I've used less, since I've learned ensembles don't want to learn pieces; they want to play them. I started writing more of the polyphony out, and in this piece everything is written out. (Originally, the interludes weren't.)

      As far as process goes, I had been composing what I called postcards, basically sketches that fit on a half sheet of paper, then combined them either into collections (Postcards from Home, String Quartet No 5) or knit them together (Shadows of Innocence, Far From the Fading Light, Troublesome Stranger), the latter two of which used slightly longer postcards. For this piece, I decided that I wanted to use longer fragments, which turned out to be 1-3 minutes long, and some are transformations of others, found in all three main movements. I would create what I then called "notations" and post them on my Facebook page (like I did with the postcards during the pandemic), then start assembling them into movements. Everything morphed as I worked. The first movement was originally two, but after I got through the first section, I didn't think it needed anything more, so I made it into an introduction. The third movement was supposed to end loud, but the material - I always tell my students to listen to what the material tells you - told me that a soft ending was the only solution, or at least the right solution.

      As far as harmony goes, I would call myself a post-atonal composer, as well as a post-serial composer. Basically, that means that I use non-traditional ways to create tonality (in this case a functional set-system, described on my blog) as well as serial elements. The main portion of the first movement employs (briefly) a duration row, derived from the pitch row. I play fast and loose with the rows, sometimes abandoning them mid-stream. Harmonies are derived from my set system, but are interlaced with the row (from which the set systeme is derived). Occasionally, though, I didn't like the system through up, and I fixed the chords by ear. That happened more in slower passages, like the introduction. For example the horn/trombone chorale that ends the introduction sounds a little Brucknerian (one of my other influences), but there were two chords in the middle that sounded a little bland, so I "fixed" them.

      Formally, aside from the interludes, the main movements tend to be in ternary or arch forms. 

      Feel free to listen to the full recording on my blog, but I'll post a more final version in the next couple of weeks.

      SYMPHONY No 4
      Symphony No 4 was the culmination of a tumultuous year (2023) in my life with the sudden deaths of my brother- and sister-in-law, as well as my fathe…
      • Sorry for all the typos, I didn't notice them until the editing window closed. I meant to say "I didn't like what the system threw up, so I fixed the chords by ear." Missed a couple of other tiny errors, but you should be able to understand what I meant.

      • My first question has to be, when you said it was a symphony you had to write, was this for purely musical reasons in the sense of working out the system you had got into your head or did it have something to go on with what was going on in your life at the time? As someone who mainly tends to write to some extent autobiographical music, I have a suspicion of any sort of purely academic musical system but of course that has nothing whatsoever to do with musical merits of such work. I sometimes ask myself how much we can expect the listener to take in?

        The slow start to the piece didn't seem to me to be entirely different in concept to some of my own slow introductions and I found it fascinating. By the time we reached the second movement, the sheer density and uncompromising nature of the material made it increasingly difficult for my poor brain to take in. So the final movement came in the end as a bit of a relief with the exhilarating motor rhythms which dominate and powerful conclusion.

        Certainly it seemed all of a piece and it will be interesting to see how many on this forum manage to identify with the idiom more quickly and easily than I did after listening twice so far.


        • I think that this symphony was probably more the culmination of what I have been doing for the past several years more than something I had to get out of my system. I think of all music as autobiographical. Whatever the composer has inside them is going to make it to the page in some way or another.

          You shouldn't be suspicious of academic systems. My system is no more academic than common practice harmony. Renaissance composers used canons, retrogrades, and inversions. Bach's counterpoint varied melodies in many ways, all within a system, which he embellished and mastered. My set system is little different from common practice in that there are three basic functions: tonic, predominant, and dominant. Because I am using harmonies with more than 3 notes, and they aren't based in thirds, I had to come up with a way to classify them. The system allows me to compose away from a keyboard in the knowledge that the functions will work, and that the harmonies will create more or less forward motion depending on their relationships. The system works in the same way that Bach's does. The only difference is that he didn't need to create it from scratch. In fact, I didn't really create it from scratch myself. It is an outgrowth of common practice itself. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is a system, which I am slowly mastering myself.

          Different listeners will take in different amounts from any piece of music, new or old. I don't expect anyone to understand my system when listening to my music, just as Bach wouldn't have cared. You don't have to understand the subtleties of a system to know whether or not you like a piece. Either you like it or you don't. In fact, understanding the system doesn't guarantee that you will like the music. It is more likely that you will find it boring, since you understand everything about it. That takes the mystery away. Music that I like works on many levels and pieces that don't, tend to disappear from the canon. If you understand everything right away, there is no point in listening to it again.

          For me, personally, the crown jewel of the piece is that second main movement. It is the one I can listen to over and over. It contains a wide variety of material that comes back transformed, peppered with a number of near quotations of masterworks from the 20th century. Oddly, I didn't plan on doing that. They just surfaced as I was writing. There is some Bartok and Stravinsky in there, as well as some Shostakovich - everything accidental, only identified as I listened to playback.

          I recently had a piece premiered that the orchestra who performed it clearly wasn't up to the task. While I was cringing at what was going wrong, almost everyone else was enjoying it. They didn't really hear the piece as I wrote it, but my system worked well enough for them that they could take something away from it that was pleasing, and I should say that piece was much more difficult and dissonant than this symphony. I think that the fact that you listened to it twice says something. When I listen to something on a forum like this, I tend not to make it through the first minute, usually because the piece doesn't challenge me enough to want to hear the whole thing. While I want to be encouraging and helpful, I know that the composer (of whatever age and background) probably won't want to hear what I have to say.

          • Common practice is just that -- what used to be accepted as the correct way to compose. By system, I meant a personal one which doesn't fit an existing mould. You clearly regard your as being directly derived from Common practice in which case I suspect there's no disagreement. And it's a valid point that you don't have to fully understand the system to appreciate the music and that being challenged a bit is no bad thing (which is why I'm quite sure I'll listen to your piece again). But of course the music has to speak on some level unless you're just writing for yourself, otherwise people will soon give up listening. That's a rather obvious general observation and not one on your work specifically.


            • One can only write and hope that people will listen. Few composers actually write for themselves. I write because I need to write, and I need to sound like myself. I want to write new things, not hash out the same old stuff. My hope is to expand the genre, not stay safe. If nobody wants to listen, then I'm not trying hard enough. My problem is not that people don't want to listen, it's that my music is difficult to play. It's intended for professionals, and when they take the time to actually learn it, something special happens. I've found, however, that whenever that happens, the mics aren't live, which means I have very few recordings of good performances.

              I have a "CD" coming out soon, and the engineer says it sounds pretty amazing. There are some issues, but only I will probably notice them. It was even better the following night in concert. My most recent chamber music concert (Shadows of Innocence, not recorded) was a different piece performed by mostly the same ensemble. I had a line of people afterwards keeping me from leaving the hall, and I was literally the last person to leave the building. (It was first on the program.) I'll post a demo in my playlist after I rerecord it using BBCSO Pro. (The current one is NP3.)

  • interesting biography, although with the exception of Shostakovich our 20th century musical gods are rather different. Will be interesting to hear the symphony when completed -- I wouldn't be so bold as to venture a comment after such a short excerpt.

    There have been arguments that we shouldn't be using this forum to discuss software but as you brought up the subject, I feel more justified in chipping in. I use the BBC Core library as there's no way my system would run Pro -- and that's even more the case running under NotePerformer Performance Engine (in Dorico) which I find the easiest way to get decent results with this library though my favourite is Cinematic Studio which has fewer "issues" though perhaps a bit less character. If you want to use BBC Pro, I suspect the most resource-efficient is to go with VEP (Vienna Ensemble Pro) which I used in the days before NPPE and that certainly gave fewer dropouts than simply running directly from the VST.

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