An alternative direction

People who know my music often describe it as neo-classical in style. In a moment of lunacy I found this theme banging around inside my skull - I've no idea whatsoever where it came just sort of emanated without having been given a specific invitation. For this reason I have titled it 'Thema Obscurante' and would appreciate anyone's views as to whether I should publish it or burn it.

Many thanks for your time.

Thema Obscura.pdf

Thema Obscurante.mp3

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  • I like the ideas in it.   Measures 55-62 added a nice and, to my ear, welcome contrast. 


    My very first reaction is:  I can honestly say, "I don't know what to say about this."  No one should recommend you burn it.  I very seriously doubt the moment you describe was "a moment of lunacy."  You said you had no idea where it came from.  It could have come from the same place where Morton Feldman's Palais du Marais came from, or some place similar.


    Feldman - Palais du Marais


    It reminded me slightly of what Morton Feldman was doing in that work, though I am not sure why.  Maybe it's partly the use of triple [ppp], and a quality that almost has the effect of a studied aimlessness (in the best sense of the word), though I don't think that's quite it.


    Where did it come from, and how did it "get into your head?" It might have come from a Muse.  Which of the nine? Perhaps Clio (who invented the guitar and comedy) or Euterpe who was partial to the flute.  Polymnia could have had a hand in inspiring this work, if it seems to you to have either a divine or geometric quality to it.  [I mention this partly because I heard a few days ago that the worship of the classical gods of mythology was returning to Greece, in light of much desperation being felt as a result of the exacerbation of the economic crisis].


    I like the fact that you want it played "Molto Rubato et Ad Libitum."  In fact, I am writing these remarks molto rebato et ad libitum at this very moment.


    I would not publish the work just yet, however. To me, it needs something, and perhaps it should not be considered finished.  I wonder how it would sound, if it were played on two different pianos, with the lines in the first few measures played (every alternative note, from top to bottom) on a second piano, tuned in a different mode, say an Arabic or a Siamese standard tuning. The same might be said of the bass chord in measure nine.  Such modifications should be done sparingly, of course, if considered at all.


    Ritardando at the end is good, though I would definitely not want it to slow down too quickly at the conclusion of the whole piece.  I might consider starting the work a bit faster than you do in this performance, and then have the tempo slow down, a little abruptly, for the purpose of dramatic impact alternating with an expressive slow display of the primary material.


    These are just initial thoughts I had, after listening to your piece a few times, and comparing it with Feldman's Palais.  I wouldn't take them too seriously, though I wouldn't hesitate to say they might possibly be based on the most solid post-modern theoretical assumptions that could have been conceived between the time when Pierre Boulez wrote his Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna (1975) and the birth of today's greatest living composer under the age of 40, whoever that might be.


    BOULEZ - Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna



    I might be entirely wrong, of course.


    I would not suggest you use a tam-tam, as Boulez does in the above work, but perhaps you could employ a celesta or rather versatile xylophone to accompany the piano, (rather than a second piano) for the enhancement of timbre and some alternative harmonics and resonance.


    I just played the two Youtube videos, of Boulez's and Morton Feldman's above mentioned works, simultaneously, and I think there are some lessons to be learned from that, which may apply in this discussion.  (Absent the tam-tam, I emphasize).  The tam-tam in Boulez' Rituel in Memoriam makes it sound a bit too much like what Messiaen was trying to achieve in his Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, and I don't think that's at all like the effect you want to elicit.


    Messiaen - Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum


    I hope my comments are somewhat useful. They might seem a bit off the wall.  I was moved to write them by what seems to have been in your case a moment of profound inspiration, and I think such happenings should be encouraged, and taken seriously.

  • Ondřejben - I see you have recently altered your name - is this a quarterly ritual or a mystical conversion of some sort I wonder?

    Whatever, thank you for taking the time to deal with my conundrum in a wide ranging and, may I say it, engaging and erudite fashion. The piece is of course in need of revision and development but is, to me at least, such an extraordinary thing to pop out of my usually rather catholic (small 'c') head.

    Of course I have listened to it two score times today and the more I do the more I like it - maybe like most things out of the ordinary it is an acquired taste. I do understand Bob's comment that 'it's just block chords' but cannot agree with that assessment - there is something quasi-religious about the progressions within the piece and the melody is quite clear if you follow its path from upper to lower staff and back again - indeed it is the melodic element that mostly grips me (although the harmonies are relatively exotic when compared with my normal patrician stance on such things).

    It is always fascinating to hear others' reactions to something of one's own making, the genesis of which remains a mystery still - but it's good that you have taken the time and trouble to listen several times before commenting on it.

    I will listen to the Boulez and Messiaen pieces later (I need to close down my East West Quantum Leap software to be able to play them but am in the middle of writing something else currently). I must say I'm not familiar with either of them, but the titles reek of death do they not - and I was certainly not in a contemplative mood with such association when I composed the music (or did it compose itself?).

    When I have listened to them I will return to your comments with perhaps a deeper understanding of their meaning and hopefully respond more adequately than at present.

    Again, thank you for the time you have spent on this.

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  • "Again, thank you for the time you have spent on this."

    Indeed, it was my pleasure.

    I think I will be able to say more about it later.

    Thanks for your response.

  • Definitely different for you.

    It grew on me as it developed and it had emotional pull as it progressed.

    Like Bob I wanted more movement in the parts after the exposition.

  • Hi Stephen,

    This is such a departure from your usual style that I went so far as to print out the score and play it. It comes across as what I think it is - a first experimentation with modernism. If that is a correct assessment, then I applaud you for making that effort and for posting it here. If it is not a correct assessment, then everything else I say in this post is probably not relevant:

    I hope this will be only the first of other efforts on your part to post things which are experimental. In my estimation, this is the path that leads to where a composer should go - towards something new, and away from merely repeating what has come before. This can be a rough road, because it means departing from the familiar and comfortable, and stepping out into what is unfamiliar and more easily challenged because to the traditional ear, it may sound bad.

    As far as the piece itself, it came across to me more as a sound experiment than an actual piece. Your unorthodox harmonies felt like you were playing around to see what works. I heard some chords which made sense to me, and others which just seemed to clash. None of them seemed to follow one another in a way which created a flow or logical sequence which built towards an inevitable end.

    I like that you are experimenting and hope you will continue - a new voice is not found overnight -

    Thanks for posting -


  • I'm not very familiar with your works, as I have only heard a couple of them so far. This does sound different from what I have heard before, though. I'm not quite sure what to make of it...

    ... the overall impression I got, if I may describe it in terms of the picture that came to my mind upon listening to it (esp. the second time round), is that of a large library, dimly lit in flickering candlelight, filled with old, dusty tomes in extensive shelves that cover the walls and reach up to the ceiling. Somewhat ominous, though not overtly so, and not in a threatening way. Rather, the atmosphere is mysterious, perhaps even mystical. The air is somewhat heavy and musty. It is quiet and lonely, and nobody seems to be present; nonetheless, this music echoes in the background, emanating from some unknown source somewhere deep inside this ancient library's labyrinthine corridors.

    Publish it, or burn it? I think burning it would be rather drastic... I'd say, publish it with a description along the lines of what I wrote above, and it might fly? Who knows. Just a wild thought on my part. At any rate, it piqued my interest enough to listen to it 3 times now, and to take the time to write the little description above.

  • Stephen,

    All of my pieces come into my head "out of nowhere" in the manner you described with this one.  This is your inner self singing, that's all there's to it.

    For what my opinion is worth, I'll state it:  When I listen to this piece, the sequence of sounds DOES INDEED sound logical to me.  The chords, the pitches, follow a sequence with an inner logic. Therefore, I personally view this piece as a tonal piece, in the sense that I understand the word tonal.  As it turns out, the pieces that pop into my head sound melodic to me, but don't necessarily fall into traditional harmonies, forcing me to enter many accidentals into the score -- yet they sound perfectly logical to me and are definitely not in the modernist category.

    I like this piece, and I think that it is deeply meaningful to your inner being.  For me too this piece gets interpreted inwardly with a deep meaning, particularly the main theme of the chords. 

    I don't understand the dichotomy you suggest -- publish or burn?  What?!  You mean you don't have your own personal collection of unpublished favorites?  I thought all composers had them!

    I do think you should publish it, but how is that the important question here?  I think it is a good piece of music.  It is a piece of music.  It is good.  And it is meaningful.


  • Well I must say that I have been honoured with some extremely interesting reactions from composers whose views I very much respect: and what different reactions they are too - what a terrific variety and how very helpful to my own understanding of this 'thing' that seeped out of my head and onto paper and into sound.

    HS: This is a truly evocative description and imo suits the music well (in fact, it probably comes close to describing how I perceive the inside of my head to be!). Seriously, a very thoughtful and fascinating reaction for which I am grateful.

    Bob, You hear it as simply a series of block chords. Please listen to the attached file in which I have abstracted the obviously obscure melody (Thema Obscurante) but written for solo violin. I hope this will help you to better understand the original version and to hear how the melody weaves itself through the piece. I'm not sure of course that this will lead to you enjoying it more but a little bit of understanding can go a long way. The thought has just occurred to me that what I'm doing here is analogous to trying to explain a joke - if I have to explain it maybe it's not a very good joke - or perhaps you and I are simply on different wavelengths. And, whilst talking of jokes - I have told many people at my golf club of your VERY witty response to my earlier post about being reincarnated as a one-legged donkey...exactly the clever sort of wit that I really appreciate.

    Mariza - you have responded in your typically kind and generous (and intelligent) manner and I appreciate your thoughts very highly. It is odd is it not that you and I can see and understand the logic of the chord progressions yet Gav doesn't - I think all three of us are musically well educated so it's even more interesting to see the different perceptions given voice - isn't life (music) fascinating!

    Gav, many thanks indeed for going to the trouble of printing out the score and trying it 'under the fingers'...and I think this might explain the dichotomy described above...although I don't play keyboard instruments I would bet my bottom dollar that one's fingers are not drawn in any way naturally to the chord sequences I have written - so it's possible that this element interferes somewhat with what one's ears are translating....just a thought.

    Anyhow, this has been a fascinating subject so far and once again I thank all of you for going to the trouble of giving me the benefit of your reactions...I am truly humbled.

    Violin Solo (Thema Obscurante).mp3
  • Hi Stephen,

    I very much enjoyed your thoughtful and appreciative response to all of the comments you have received so far, well done on that. I'll re-iterate a question I asked/implied in my response to you - is this piece a lark for you? Or are you investigating breaking out of neo-classicism and seeking something new -


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