Please Critique my Symphonic Work in D

This is a 33 minute throwback-to-the-19th-Century composition for a full symphony orchestra with extra brass (2 trumpets, 2 horns, and 2 trombones) expected to play from the balcony - an idea that I stole from Respighi (who probably stole it from Mahler!).

Anton Bruckner is perhaps my biggest inspiration as will be evident in the finale, but shades of Beethoven, Brahms, and Berlioz (inter alia) might also be apparent. I’ve therefore titled it a Nineteenth Century Overture, although I may change the title to just “The Nineteenth Century”.

Among the key features are an English horn solo accompanied by strings (Rehearsal Letter D) , and a melodic passage for the violas (to atone for all of those dreadful jokes at which I chuckled as a smug violin player!). This is at Rehearsal Letter P

Please listen to the audio score on the Musescore site while noting that

  1. the sound quality is not as good as the playback directly from the Musescore program,
  2. Tympani rolls and string tremolos are approximate.
  3. there might be some audio distortion in some of the tutti passages , particularly in the finale.

Regardless, I hope that the overall rendering is adequate enough for your feedback which will be DEEPLY appreciated!

Many thanks in advance.

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  • as Bruckner is your biggest influence, then this was naturally of major interest as I think that makes now three of us on the forum who are strongly influenced by by the greatest of all symphonists (imho of course) in their own symphonic works -- with me it is above all nos. 3 and 8. And I was encouraged by an echt Brucknerian theme quite early on in bar 23. There were some other attractive touches as well (the cor anglais solo is another one). But I'm afraid the overall experience was rather frustrating. The music seems to me to plod interminably, never fully coming to life with faster rhythms or even dramatic climaxes except near the end (which is powerful but terribly distorted). I'm not quite sure how much of this is the music and how much the MuseScore site rendering. MuseScore 4 itself I have heard quite good results from so is it not possible to simply create the audio and then play that separately?

    Perhaps others will "get" this music better than me as I'm really no proper critic.

    • Thank you VERY much, David, and seeing as how you hold Bruckner in high esteem, you're an absolutely proper critic! You're also correct in that it does plod quite a bit, for which I will (tongue in cheek) blame Bruckner's influence! tongue-out. I did try some faster tempi, but then found that both harmonic and melodic textures came out better at something in the 80 q-notes/min range. This is probably where I'm channelling my inner Otto Klemperer!  (See how I'm a master at deflecting blame?!)

      In Musescore 4.1.1, the finale sounds a LOT better in the playback directly from the program.  There's just too much compression in the audio file, which may not have been recorded with the proper mixer settings anyway.  The Mixer in Musescore 4 requires quite a bit of tweaking by trial and error.

      How about the passage for the violas at Rehersal Letter P? Did you feel that it fit into the overall mix?

      Many thanks again. I deeply appreciate your feedback.

    • the viola theme at letter P I find quite witty and inventive (although unfortunately the actual instrument sounds pretty bad) but after a while the punctuating block chords started to irritate a bit. As someone who tends to write somewhat contrapuntally (though never fugally), this is I think one reason I feel the lack of organic development overall -- I say feeling because I can't analyse in detail after just one hearing but I have probably experienced some of the same reactions as HS of a rather stop-go without the sense of an overall unifying arch. It's true that some say the same of Bruckner but Bruckner in fact generally knew pretty well what he was doing. Perhaps you do as well but unfortunately i am still in need of some convincing as it could be that what I'm expecting and what you set out to achieve are quite different.


    • Thanks again, David. The reason that I avoided a countermelody in the violas passage is that I didn't want anything to detract from the violas melodic line. However if there is a way to do that and minimise the impact of the punctuating chord accompaniment, I'll look into it.

    • by the way when you wrote "although unfortunately the actual instrument sounds pretty bad", did you mean the musescore soundfont rendition of it, or the choice of the violas in that register?


    • I simply meant the MuseScore rendering. I don't see any reason per se why the violas in that register cannot work.


    • I'm also constricted by the soundfont technology of a bygone era in my own orchestral works, so I fully sympathize with this situation. :-)

      Having said that, though, my standard advice is to write two separate scores: a "proper" score representing the music as it "should be", and a "midi" score where you pull out all the stops and do whatever it takes to make the computer rendering palatable. Or at least less likely to make your ears bleed. :-P

      Of course, that is a lot of work; a more ideal situation would be if  your notation software has a way of inserting invisible events, that you can use to tweak the midi without making the score unreadable.  I use Lilypond for my scores, for example, and there's a function for tagging an arbitrary piece of music and later including or omitting it. So I designated two tags, #'midi and #'layout, for the midi score and conductor's score, respectively, and strip out all #'midi tagged stuff when generating the "real" score, whilst stripping out all #'layout tagged stuff when generating the computer audio.  Keeping the two versions in the same file has the advantage that they won't inadvertently go out-of-sync when I revise the music.  But I'm not sure if the OP's software supports this sort of thing.

    • quie a few people suggest such an approach and indeed for the ultimate in control, you'll need to work in a DAW (as real experts in the field Mike Hewer will be able to confirm). However, for the mere mortals among us, I don't find this necessary. With Dorico, provided you are largely happy to allow one track per instrument, you can do all the necessary MIDI manipulations without affecting the score and indeed things like normal dynamic markings and articulations can be shown in the main score anyway. In special situations where something may not work from notation (most often certain library trills or multinote tremolos in my experience), you can create a hidden parallel track specifically for notating long hand how they should be played.

      One considerable boon for getting decent mockups from notation software with the minimum of effort of the NotePerformer playback engines with the major update to the software last May. Although you lose a bit of control, much of the hard work of making a score sound musical is taken away from you when using one of the increasing number of supported popular orchestral libraries. MuseScore v4 is hugely improved regarding playback compared to previous versions but you're nevertheless stuck with what you have -- there is no support for the hundreds of industry-standard VST libraries.


  • It's an ambitious work, scored for large orchestra and grand in scope.  However, I found the execution rather lacking:

    1) There is not much thematic development, if any.  For a large-scale work as this, you really need a strong thematic development in order to retain the listener's interest.  As it stands, it sounds like just disparate motifs strung together, with not much sequential logic to it. Many passages sound like they're just there for playing chord progressions -- this could be made to work if your chord progressions are unusual or interesting to listen to, but unfortunately I had a hard time with them -- which in a large-scale work like this really isn't enough to hold up the entire structure.

    2) Dramatic arc, or the lack thereof: even though Bruckner often wrote in terms of "blocks" -- i.e., clean-cut, almost isolated blocks of music, rather than, say, Sibelius who was a master at transitions -- Bruckner nevertheless had a strong sense of a dramatic arc.  His 2nd symphony, for example, uses the upward stepping sequence as the basis for increasing dramatic tension. His 5th symphony, esp. the finale, uses a huge fugal structure to impart a powerful forward momentum (one could argue the entire symphony is one gigantic introduction to the concluding passage). His 7th symphony opens with a long, beautiful melody full of tension that drives the music forward in a powerful way.  Here, however, I had a hard time finding any captivating melody lines longer than a page, or even half a page.  The various sections seem genuinely disconnected, and unlike the Bruckner symphonies there isn't much sequential logic to them.  The ending does sound reminiscient of the conclusion of Bruckner's 8th; however, the sudden ff tutti at the end of Bruckner's 8th is the result of a long build-up of musical tension, finally all released in one final, satisfying outburst; here, the fff conclusion sounded like the music has finally run out of ideas and/or completely lost its way, so here's an fff tutti to finally put the poor thing to rest.

    3) Lack of clearly identifiable thematic material -- in spite of the criticism levelled against Bruckner's so-called "0'th" symphony, it actually does have a main theme: the opening arpeggio figures are the main theme, and Bruckner develops it masterfully throughout the first movement, with a clear sense of direction, a clear dramatic arc, and the reappearance of the argeggio figures in clearly-identifiable form at various structural junctures. Here, however, it seems that the music has taken the criticism of Bruckner's 0th literally, in the sense that there aren't any clearly-identifiable themes and whatever is there doesn't seem to be used to demarcate the structural landmarks of the symphony.  Maybe there is some subtle connection between all of the motifs throughout, but it's so non-obvious that the listener couldn't identify them immediately and thereby wouldn't be able to perceive the structural connections between them.  As a result, it sounds like random musical passages strung together in more-or-less random order, which leads to a rather uninteresting listening experience.

    4) Harmonic progressions: the harmonic progressions sound somewhat aimless, as if arbitrary chords were thrown in there just for the fun of it. While technically there is a way to do this such that the result still makes musical sense, that's unfortunately not what happened here. In a piece like this, you either need (1) strongly-functional harmony, in the sense of purposeful chord progressions that move the music in a specific direction, in which case it can make up for the lack of melodic progression / voice-leading; or (2) weakly- or non-functional harmony used for flavor, with little or no harmonic momentum but with much stronger melody leading to lead the music forward.  Here, however, we lack both functional harmony and melodic leading, resulting in music that sounds aimless and not really going anywhere.  This makes it quite frustrating to listen to.

    As for the orchestration / scoring aspect, I didn't get into that because I was so frustrated from the listening experience that there wasn't much interest left to dig deeper into the score.

    I don't want to leave this review on a negative note, though. This symphonic work really reminds me of an early symphonic work I wrote back in my college years, that had similar grand ambitions but suffers from many of the same weaknesses I pointed out above. Well, to be fair, this one is better because it actually has, at a first glance, decent orchestration; my old symphonic work was written in pure ignorance of how to score for an orchestra and so I'd be too ashamed to show the score to anyone today. :-D  I bring this up to encourage you to keep learning and writing; don't stop learning and eventually you will get to the point your music will really "work".

    • Thank you, HS Tech for your very honest feedback. There is a lot of food for thought here.

      In terms of a unifying theme, my intention was to use the Dat-dat-de-Dat-dat=dat rhythmic pattern as one. Clearly that didn't come through quite as clearly as I had intended.

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