This is my most recently finished work. Incidentally, I also believe this to be my finest compositional achievement to date, and it certainly required more effort than any other piece I've written in the past (I began writing it in April of last year and finished it about a week ago).
The majority of the thematic and harmonic material (particularly in the first and third movements) is all derived from a single four note pitch class set (C, G, Ab, B) whose numerous permutations generate an immense amount of unique ideas throughout the work.
The first movement begins with a hazy Lento passage in which the primary motif (based on the aforementioned pitch set) of the work is introduced by the viola. The music builds to a dramatic "Maestoso" passage. The rest of the introduction maintains a dreamy atmosphere, until the section marked "More Lively," where the piece is quickly whipped up into a frenzy and then scarcely loses momentum from that point forward. The rest of the movement is fast, fantastical and very loosely structured. Here there are definitely some strong influences from composers such as Ravel, Szymanowski, and Sorabji.
After the movement relentlessly pushes forward, it hits its climax and plummets downward, ending with a very short reprise of some of the opening material. The second movement begins shortly thereafter. This movement, a theme and eleven variations, is the "core" of the work, so-to-speak. After introducing the theme, variation one begins, which is based on a two-note viola ostinato which has been described by my composition teacher as "obsessive." Variation two has a very sporadic, unpredictable quality. Variation three (marked "Pizzicato") exclusively uses pizzicato for both the soloist and the string section. Variation four gives the impression of a lop-sided waltz, alternating between 5/8 and 6/8 meters. Variation five ("Ritmico") is faster and, as implied my the marking, quite rhythmic. Variation six is based on fast orchestral arpeggios formed from polychords. Variation seven ("Sostenuto") slows the movement down immensely and is comprised of quiet, sustained sonorities. Variation eight (my personal favorite) is a dream-like arabesque that contains some of my richest harmonic work. Variation nine picks up speed again, leading to a very dense, chromatic variation ("In a confused manner") in which the theme is combined with the first movement's pitch set. Variation eleven ("Maestoso") is the climax of the movement, which is followed by a virtuosic cadenza and a mysterious coda.
The third movement again derives the bulk of its content from the original pitch set, now juxtaposed with the rest of the themes from the first two movements. The majority of the movement is toccata-like (perhaps containing sections somewhat reminiscent of heavy metal music), barring one extended section that occurs before the coda, in which all of the past themes are increasingly broadened and combined simultaneously. After this, the music becomes frenzied once again, reprises the first movement, and then builds fiercely to its final climax.
I've been an immense amount of work into this piece and would appreciate any feedback at all. Even a comment as simple as "I liked it," or "it wasn't really my thing," is helpful. I think I've managed to find a good balance between traditional and modern techniques in this work, as well as a unique harmonic language and a less-than-predictable approach to form. Comments on any of these aspects and my success (or lack thereof) in their utilization are greatly appreciated.
Anyway, on with the music!
Here are my critics for this piece
First movement: Very strong opening. You make your harmonic language very apparent. Really do like this movement, but my only critic is that I wished the viola would take more breaks through out, even if its just one more break and let the orchestra take over more.
Second Movement: I had mixed feelings about this movement. There were moments that were just absolutely amazing. Especially moments that you used sustained notes over the viola, the chords you chose there were just fantastic. However, there were moments that were kind of eh. I wasn't a fan of the waltz in the middle, it seemed a little out of place in the entire movement. There is also a moment in the viola solo where the soloist plays a very repetitive rhythmic pattern that seems to go on to long without the orchestra really taking over more. that might also just be because its a midi rendering, but it did feel like it went on to long.
Third Movement; So far my favorite movement. Loved the fact that you didn't resort to ostinato patterns to accompany the viola, all the parts were interesting but didn't take away from the spot light. More so in this movement does the viola and orchestra have a dialog with one another, which I particularly like about this movement. However, like in the second movement, there is a section that seems to go on almost a little to long. The ostinato in the harp toward the end seems to go on a little long, and I wished that you would have plugged in that pattern in another instrument or embellished it more as it went on to keep it from stagnating.
Overall I really liked this piece. Very strong melodic material, well developed harmonic language, and a compelling structure that never got old or predictable. I really hope you are working on getting this performed very soon, it would be a shame if it isn't.
Keep up the amazing work.
So your name is John Galt? Are you a violist? The second question is important, since most of us aren't violists and cannot properly judge the viola part as bona fide concerto-stuff. I really cannot say. It looked feasible on paper, perhaps too easy - I just don't know. Your viola sample is dreadful, and you might want to substitute another instrument in this incarnation just to get your point across more convincingly.
I can only listen to the 1st mvt. right now: pressed for time. I was impressed by all that you can write - there were some wonderful sonorities, effective passages. I'd be glad to have penned much of what you said in the 1st.
So, I liked it. But this is dissection and I have to opine with vigor. Otherwise, we can't learn. Here is what I noticed:
I thought, "Another harp, celesta, glock and eventually gong piece." These instruments, while all marvelous creations, are fast clichés in our time, 2012. Perhaps it is the way that they are used that is getting stale. I wonder about the pitch-class idea too. If we are not told, would we need to care? The music must stand tall alone: no need to show your math (other than the score).
I did not warm to the viola part. Tyler did, so this is just how I felt at one hearing. Again, the sample could be at fault: it bleats, and that's not fair to you. But the viola part itself has to find some way to grab me by the collar and say, "Pay attention to me!" "I matter more than anything in the world for this 9 minutes." I'm not captivated. I liked.
I cannot help but to notice something that may be interesting, may not be. Right now, there have been 22 views of your work. Maybe 1/2 of them listened to even a portion. You lost them - they wrote nothing. This is probably commonplace here, but you want to be the exception. I'm in a mood perhaps, but I'd like to encourage you to try to think of why they might have left. Composers today need to be intelligent, dynamic plus a bit of Ziegfeld.
The movement itself had a nice direction to it, and you sometimes created sounds that reminded me faintly of Messiaen's prettier moments. You have a lot of talent, as I heard it. I'd show this to some rough critics and get it fully born into the world.
Thank you both for your feedback.
If you are referring to the first variation, then I believe this to be a midi issue. The obsessive quality of the repetition in this variation was an expressive choice, and admittedly, when I first wrote it I was unsure if I had gone too far with it. However, upon hearing it played by an actual violist I realized that it's repetitiveness is justified as long as the violist plays as expressively as possibly, despite the lack of rhythmic variety.
In the actual score, the harp actually trades that part with the celeste. I don't particularly care for my sample library's celeste sample, however, so I let the harp play the whole thing for the purposes of this recording.
Thank you very much! Though I cannot predict when I will have a performance with a full orchestra, I am currently in the process of writing a piano transcription of the orchestra part, and I hope to perform the piece (or at least the second movement of it) within the next few months. I will be sure to post a recording of the first performance when the time comes.
Sylvester Wager said:
Yes it is, and no, I'm not.
I don't believe that one must play an instrument to know its capabilities and be able to compose well for it, though it certainly does help. Though I would be hesitant to say that the viola part is "too easy," the friend that I composed it for has practiced it and does not anticipate that it will take him more than 4-5 months to get it to a performable level.
I agree that the viola sample is pretty horrendous... I feel that it is the one instrument that my sample library completely botched. Unfortunately, I have looked into some other high-end solo string libraries that are supposedly the best money can buy, but they didn't impress me much either. Do you or anyone else have any recommendations for other libraries?
I suppose, but on the other hand, these instruments each have extremely distinct sounds which most people have come to associate with a particular type of idea or context. That may be cliché in a sense, but I think that unless someone is doing something particularly radical with these instruments, it's almost impossible to avoid using them in the same way that they are used in most other pieces. Furthermore, for practical reasons, these instruments can only be utilized effectively in an orchestral setting under certain circumstances, otherwise they will be drowned out (such as in the case of the harp), will draw unnecessary attention to themselves (the gong), or will simply not fit the character of the music.
I'm trying to decipher whether are not this is a criticism, as I was hardly "showing my math," but merely giving some theoretical background on the piece. In the grand scheme of things the music must be strong enough by itself to be interesting without an explanation, but in a composers' forum, I think that there is absolutely no reason to refrain from explaining your music from an analytical standpoint, especially when dealing with complex works. There are plenty of 20th-21st century works (written by composers such as Webern, Carter, Sorabji, etc.) that are perfectly enjoyable to listen to without any serious analysis, but there is simply no way to fully appreciate them without studying the score in depth and finding relationships between motives, pitch sets, tone rows, or what have you... only then can the greatness of the music be completely understood. In the case of this piece, one can see the pitch set I employed (or some derivative of it) in practically every bar in the first and third movements. Composing this piece quite often felt like a puzzle, because I was always trying to find new ways to use the set I chose that were melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically different from anywhere else in the piece. I think that other composers on this forum who utilize similar techniques would appreciate how meticulous I was in my usage of this material, and would enjoy analyzing how it all fits together.
With past works I posted on this forum I was warned that I may not receive much feedback simply because my music was either too modern or complex. Though I hardly consider my music to be very "modern" (its "post-modern" if anything, though I hate this type of categorization), I could understand how those composing in more conservatively tonal styles may have difficulty commenting on a piece like this in depth. I also feel like the quality of the viola sample probably puts some people off. Perhaps, also, the fact that the music doesn't really gain momentum until a few minutes into the first movement causes some to lose interest.
I think this is good advice. Thank you for taking the time to listen to and comment on my work.