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Image from Peasant Songs of Great Russia by E Lineff, 1911

This is the latest version of an arrangement of melodies which I've incorporated into various other pieces also.  Score and software-generated audio file on MuseScore, audio only on SoundCloud.

As usual, this is intended to be a piece for performance rather than computer music, so I have to ask listeners to use the audio file as a tool to imagine what a performance might sound like.

The composition uses the middle eastern technique of taxim, a improvisatory initial exploration of the mode.  I'm not aware that this technique is actually used in traditional Russian music; I thought it would be interesting to try it as an experiment.

One composer for whom I played it said, "Well it's very Russian ..."

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Yes, most pleasant though I'm not able to say whether it's Russian or not. The Volga Boatman is about the only tradition Russian tune I know and your work does have that dark-ish solemnity about it - kind-of hopes for better times.

It's easy to imagine a performance from the score. A clarinettist could make something very good from that opening solo, applying dynamics and coming up with staccatos. I liked the Alto Fl part. Did you choose that for its slightly darker tone?

It would certainly make a nice chamber concert piece. 

Dane.

Thanks very much for the reply. Yes, I wanted the alto flute for its tone; I also wanted the flute in some sections to be able to project adequately in the lower registers, and the alto flute is supposed to be better for that.

I considered including an instruction that the clarinet could add or substitute improvisation in the opening solo.

I enjoy your music Jon because it takes me to different places than I would ever get to on my own. I think this is well written and musical although I can't give you an opinion on how it relates to traditional Russian music, if that even matters. I like the effect of the changing meters.

Can you tell us how you became interested in this style and what you use as sources?

Thanks for the response and for liking the piece.

I've always been interested in folk music, and this interest has led me to compose a number of folk-influenced classical style pieces.  These are not what I would consider "arrangements," but are essays into a musical tradition stretching back at least to Haydn's Scottish and Welsh songs, and extending through Chopin, Beethoven, Bartok, Copland, and many other major classical composers, who incorporated folk themes into their compositions.

I've found a valuable source for such melodies in on line archives like Google books or archive.org, which make available many anthologies of authentic folk melodies published from the late 18th  to the early 20th centuries.

The melodies adapted for my Russian Suite are from two such sources as indicated in the note at the head of the score on MuseScore.

By the way, when I was a kid for years I thought the title of the best known Russian song was "Song of the Vulgar Boatman." Well I guess river boatmen aren't noted for their refinement ...

Ingo Lee said:

I enjoy your music Jon because it takes me to different places than I would ever get to on my own. I think this is well written and musical although I can't give you an opinion on how it relates to traditional Russian music, if that even matters. I like the effect of the changing meters.

Can you tell us how you became interested in this style and what you use as sources?

Hi Jon,

I have just listened to the complete set and can certainly hear Russian influences in these folk songs. Overall the lack of dynamics and contrasting instrumentation leaves me a little cold - of course these may partly be due to limitations of the Musescore playback facility so I have engaged my imagination to try to generate some enthusiasm. Of course much Russian music is a little pensive and reflective - I always think of them in the cold and darkness of the steppes and the music makes me feel as though that's precisely where I am. To me, a lot of folk music is a bit underwhelming because it's the words that are really meaningful and the music simply supports them. There are many exceptions to this, for example Hungarian, English and American folk songs where the music forms an equal partnership with the words and helps to express musically the mood of the song. Hungarian folksongs are often accompanied by dance and that factor adds much to their liveliness and listenability. There are some excellent exceptions to my overall view of Russian songs of course - some of the music being very evocative and emotionally stirring - perhaps you might do a little research to identify them.

Technically there seem to be one or two anomalies: why, I wonder, are there so many doubly-dotted notes - is it because phrase or breath marks are unavailable to you in your notation programme? I suggest that if you print the music for live performance you alter them appropriately.

I am not usually negative in my remarks on this forum (or elsewhere) as I am always keen to encourage endeavour whenever possible, so I apologise for my rather bland reaction to your hard work. My overall feeling is that these arrangements are suitable as an academic record (in the event of there being a danger of the songs being 'lost to the world') but are not going to set the world afire in performance. You will be aware that there are many fine examples of folk songs from all around the world that have been arranged for larger groups of instruments - particularly symphonic pieces, and I think these examples of yours could be much improved with the benefits of contrast in volume and instrumentation available within a symphony orchestra. At the risk of being accused of stealing your thread or blowing my own trumpet you might like to have a listen here to two folk songs suites arranged and orchestrated by me that might better explain where I'm coming from: 'American Folk Song Suite' and 'English Folk Song Suite No.1' under the 'orchestral' music tab:  
https://www.scoreexchange.com/profiles/Stephen-Lines

All the best,

Stephen

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

The double-dotted notes reflect my uncertainty as to whether or how to include breathing space for wind instruments, especially for alto flute, which I understand takes a fair amount of breath.  What I would really like to do is just not include any breathing indications and leave it up to the performer.  But I've consulted orchestration books and on line forums about this issue of whether the composer should include or indicate breathing spaces, and I've found conflicting advice. I've noted that a lot of standard (i.e. professionally produced, classic) score seem just not to include breathing indications, so maybe that's what I should do.  Any further comments on this point from anyone, but especially performers, would be welcome.

I've sometimes thought myself that a piece like this might be more successful for a full (even if small) orchestra, but to be honest I don't feel I am (yet) capable of composing for a full orchestra, as well as the careerist factor that it seem to be easier to get things performed by chamber ensembles.

I'll look at the Folk suites at some point.

Stephen Lines said:

Hi Jon,

I have just listened to the complete set and can certainly hear Russian influences in these folk songs. Overall the lack of dynamics and contrasting instrumentation leaves me a little cold - of course these may partly be due to limitations of the Musescore playback facility so I have engaged my imagination to try to generate some enthusiasm. Of course much Russian music is a little pensive and reflective - I always think of them in the cold and darkness of the steppes and the music makes me feel as though that's precisely where I am. To me, a lot of folk music is a bit underwhelming because it's the words that are really meaningful and the music simply supports them. There are many exceptions to this, for example Hungarian, English and American folk songs where the music forms an equal partnership with the words and helps to express musically the mood of the song. Hungarian folksongs are often accompanied by dance and that factor adds much to their liveliness and listenability. There are some excellent exceptions to my overall view of Russian songs of course - some of the music being very evocative and emotionally stirring - perhaps you might do a little research to identify them.

Technically there seem to be one or two anomalies: why, I wonder, are there so many doubly-dotted notes - is it because phrase or breath marks are unavailable to you in your notation programme? I suggest that if you print the music for live performance you alter them appropriately.

I am not usually negative in my remarks on this forum (or elsewhere) as I am always keen to encourage endeavour whenever possible, so I apologise for my rather bland reaction to your hard work. My overall feeling is that these arrangements are suitable as an academic record (in the event of there being a danger of the songs being 'lost to the world') but are not going to set the world afire in performance. You will be aware that there are many fine examples of folk songs from all around the world that have been arranged for larger groups of instruments - particularly symphonic pieces, and I think these examples of yours could be much improved with the benefits of contrast in volume and instrumentation available within a symphony orchestra. At the risk of being accused of stealing your thread or blowing my own trumpet you might like to have a listen here to two folk songs suites arranged and orchestrated by me that might better explain where I'm coming from: 'American Folk Song Suite' and 'English Folk Song Suite No.1' under the 'orchestral' music tab:  
https://www.scoreexchange.com/profiles/Stephen-Lines

All the best,

Stephen

It is an open question when referring to phrasing and how it should be indicated - if at all. My view, after 50+ years as a performer, composer and conductor, is that I don’t want to spend time, which is expensive and limited, during rehearsals discussing phrasing. Personally, I generally indicate in my scores precisely what I want - fortunately I know very well the limitations of wind instruments in this regard and never see players keeling over due to lack of breath. If I write a relatively long phrase that most instruments can manage in one breath but some can’t, then I subdivide it for those that might struggle and clearly mark that a very soft recommencement is required in order to maintain the flow. If left to individual performers to make breathing decisions then the poor old conductor has extra problems in ensuring similarity of interpretation across the board.

Jon Corelis said:

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

The double-dotted notes reflect my uncertainty as to whether or how to include breathing space for wind instruments, especially for alto flute, which I understand takes a fair amount of breath.  What I would really like to do is just not include any breathing indications and leave it up to the performer.  But I've consulted orchestration books and on line forums about this issue of whether the composer should include or indicate breathing spaces, and I've found conflicting advice. I've noted that a lot of standard (i.e. professionally produced, classic) score seem just not to include breathing indications, so maybe that's what I should do.  Any further comments on this point from anyone, but especially performers, would be welcome.

I've sometimes thought myself that a piece like this might be more successful for a full (even if small) orchestra, but to be honest I don't feel I am (yet) capable of composing for a full orchestra, as well as the careerist factor that it seem to be easier to get things performed by chamber ensembles.

I'll look at the Folk suites at some point.

Stephen Lines said:

Hi Jon,

I have just listened to the complete set and can certainly hear Russian influences in these folk songs. Overall the lack of dynamics and contrasting instrumentation leaves me a little cold - of course these may partly be due to limitations of the Musescore playback facility so I have engaged my imagination to try to generate some enthusiasm. Of course much Russian music is a little pensive and reflective - I always think of them in the cold and darkness of the steppes and the music makes me feel as though that's precisely where I am. To me, a lot of folk music is a bit underwhelming because it's the words that are really meaningful and the music simply supports them. There are many exceptions to this, for example Hungarian, English and American folk songs where the music forms an equal partnership with the words and helps to express musically the mood of the song. Hungarian folksongs are often accompanied by dance and that factor adds much to their liveliness and listenability. There are some excellent exceptions to my overall view of Russian songs of course - some of the music being very evocative and emotionally stirring - perhaps you might do a little research to identify them.

Technically there seem to be one or two anomalies: why, I wonder, are there so many doubly-dotted notes - is it because phrase or breath marks are unavailable to you in your notation programme? I suggest that if you print the music for live performance you alter them appropriately.

I am not usually negative in my remarks on this forum (or elsewhere) as I am always keen to encourage endeavour whenever possible, so I apologise for my rather bland reaction to your hard work. My overall feeling is that these arrangements are suitable as an academic record (in the event of there being a danger of the songs being 'lost to the world') but are not going to set the world afire in performance. You will be aware that there are many fine examples of folk songs from all around the world that have been arranged for larger groups of instruments - particularly symphonic pieces, and I think these examples of yours could be much improved with the benefits of contrast in volume and instrumentation available within a symphony orchestra. At the risk of being accused of stealing your thread or blowing my own trumpet you might like to have a listen here to two folk songs suites arranged and orchestrated by me that might better explain where I'm coming from: 'American Folk Song Suite' and 'English Folk Song Suite No.1' under the 'orchestral' music tab:  
https://www.scoreexchange.com/profiles/Stephen-Lines

All the best,

Stephen

Thanks, that is a useful perspective on the issue.

Stephen Lines said:

It is an open question when referring to phrasing and how it should be indicated ...

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