This is a piece that I conceived of all the way back in 1998, but which I have never completely scored. Last week I started working on reorchestrating it (because the previous orchestration, or what existed of it, was rather poor IMO), and after finishing the first 36 bars, I decided on a whim to throw in a fugato passage instead of continuing with the original plan, which led to what I think is a rather boring and repetitious passage only slightly different from these first 36 bars. At first I feared that it would lead the piece into a totally new direction that would entail discarding everything else I had written before, but I've managed to bring it back on track somewhat (it subtly leads to the dominant key now, which is even better since the original passage remains stuck in C/A minor for a long time). I think I like this new version much better than the original, so I decided to post it here for feedback.
So here it is, the first 95 bars of the March of the Puppet Army. It's intended to somewhat quaint and humorous, depicting toy soldiers / puppets marching to battle ... in the living room. I've orchestrated a dozen or so more bars, but I clipped it at m.95 here because the following material is still unfinished.
I'm looking for feedback on:
1) Any miscalculations in orchestration -- I'm still new at this, and probably committed a lot of beginner's mistakes on this front;
2) The music itself -- whether it "makes sense" musically, what can be improved, and whether I succeeded at depicting what I wanted to depict, or this is just a caricature of my intent;
3) The viability for larger-scale structure: I actually have in mind an entire second major theme (not yet scored) that probably rivals this first segment in length, so I'd appreciate any comments about whether the music as it stands is amenable to such a structure, or whether I've written the "junior climaxes" too strongly and should pare them down a bit so as not to spoil the "grand climax" that comes later.
Thanks in advance for listening!
I'm writing as I listen so please bear with me.
mm 3-4, carry the tympani with the low strings and follow the decr.
Keep the ww parts in voice 1 until they actually split. Don't transfer to player 2. (they'll understand! lol)
Rethink what the instruments are able to do. Can the oboe alone carry the melody? It's a decision you have to make and be sure the accompaniament will allow it to shine through.
The piece makes sense and does indeed have a whimsical feel to it but I feel it needs a "quirk", the something from out of nowhere that wakes up the listener. (This may be coming, but do think about it!)
As far as a second theme, until we hear it, it's hard to say whether the early climaxes are to much. I would think of a trio type section (think march) as a second theme and then return to the A section.
Thanks, Tim, for listening and for your comments!
mm 3-4: makes sense, I'll change this.
About keeping ww parts in voice 1: is this the usual convention for orchestral woodwind writing? Meaning, I should never give a part to voice 2 unless I actually need both voices?
Now about the solo oboe melody, this is actually an interesting question. I think in this case it should be OK, since the string pizzicato accompaniment is pretty light, and the oboe is in the low register where it shouldn't have a problem with being too soft. When the oboe melody returns in m.29 with somewhat heavier accompaniment, I have it strengthened by the bassoon an octave below. Does this pairing make sense, or would it sound weird?
But in any case, the interesting part is that originally I scored this melody for the clarinet, because it had the range to cover the entire melody including m.11, which is too low for the oboe. But later on I changed my mind, firstly because I wanted a timbre closer to a trumpet (a possible alternative here is actually a muted trumpet, but the muted trumpet has a different timbre than what I envisioned), and secondly because the oboe would have a more piercing timbre in this register than the clarinet, so it would be less likely to get covered over. However, m.11 is below the oboe's range, so I either needed an english horn, or something else that covers that range. Since I didn't have the E.H. in my instrumentation (I didn't see enough reason to include it if it's only needed for this one bar!) I decided that a clarinet in the chalumeau register might work here, it also adding a whimsical sound to the passage. I did consider using a bassoon instead, but wasn't sure if it would carry through in this register. Does this line of reasoning make sense, or am I just making all the wrong decisions here? :-)
As for the "quirk", yeah, I think that's one of the ingredients that would make this piece stand out, as opposed to just being merely an OK piece. I'm not quite sure if I have it, though. There is one upcoming section where the piece (deliberately) starts repeating the same bar over and over many times, as though it were clockwork that got stuck in a loop, before suddenly stopping and restarting with a faster tempo. I'm not sure if that counts. :-P
Another thing I originally envisioned was to use wood blocks instead of timpani in the triple beats in mm.8, 12, 16, etc.. But I wasn't sure how to pull that off when the motif is needed in tutti sections, since wood blocks would be inaudible then, so I decided to stick with timpani. I was also going to use snare drums at some point, but percussion is not my strong suit, so I'm kinda shying away from treading in deep waters here. (Maybe that's an unfounded fear?)
As for the form, the original idea was actually a sonata form, believe it or not. That was back when I had no idea how to properly write in sonata form (it wasn't until year 2000 that I finally wrote a sonata form that actually deserved to be in sonata form rather than just being shoehorned into one), so that's hanging in the balance right now. Now with your idea of an actual march form, I'm vacillating between a Beethoven-style scherzo + trio, a march + trio, or the original sonata form wannabe, or perhaps something else altogether. The new fugato passage has thrown in a monkey wrench into the works, and I'm not so sure of any long-term plans for the piece anymore!
But in any case, thanks so much for your comments!
First, let me say I really like this. It has something of Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette about it.
Orchestrating for winds - Tim is correct. Only specify voice 2 when you want them to play 2 independant lines, otherwise leave in voice 1. They will either both play, or mark it "solo" "1 player" or similar. The players will sort out amongst themselves who will play which bar, phrase etc.
Oboe - I'm not sure I agree with your statement that "the oboe is in the low register where it shouldn't have a problem with being too soft" In my experience of oboe players they struggle at the bottom of the range and prefer when the dots are in the middle of the stave and upwards. What you have done here with the interplay with the clarinet is great and could easily be extended through this section with call and answer phrases.
Form - I love sonata form, and this would work well. The fugato could be moved to the development stage, after the second theme, perhaps, opening opportunities for further development. However, for me, this whimsical approach would work better as scherzo or march. Depending on your second theme, a traditional march form may well work, with a good choice for the trio of relative major or up a 4th, where you can use the second theme as a standalone. Whatever you do next, please share it with us again.
Thanks, Alan, for your kind words!
I'm glad to learn that the wind players will sort out amongst themselves who will play which phrase, but doesn't that mean that I have to print both voices in the same part? Currently I'm following Adler's advice in his book The Study of Orchestration, and printing completely separate parts for first/second flutes/oboes/clarinets/etc..
As for the oboe in low register... I trust your judgment more than my own, since I have basically zero experience in this regard. :-) So what do you think? Should I have the second oboe double on english horn then, just so I can have a clearer articulation in the low register that the melody requires?
As for form... I'm currently tentatively working on the transitional passage right after what I posted in view of a second theme that's pretty expansive, and that could potentially even conclude the piece, if done right. The trouble is that I have many more ideas that I wanted to put into the piece, which needs a little more space. :-) Perhaps a scherzo or scherzo-like form might work, though, if I borrow Beethoven's device of repeating the scherzo + trio after the first occurrence of the trio. The repetition will not be verbatim, but will have the variations that I want to explore.
Yes time for a second theme, a slower March (think hope and glory).
Agree with Alan about the low oboes. Would get quite a nasty sound I think at bar 19.
A bassoon down an octave at 17?
Disagree with Alan about double wind parts.
Firstly their parts are separately printed, they don't see each other's notes except as cues so they don't choose when to play.
Secondly there is nothing wrong with giving the second players interesting stuff as you have at 61.
The second theme I currently have is not exactly slower, nor is it hope and glory... it's more a boisterous, heroic, victory march. (Well OK, so it got the glory part, but the hope is already fulfilled. :-P) Well, it's the same tempo but does have longer notes, perhaps that's what you had in mind? I'm not quite there yet -- right now I'm struggling a bit with the transitional passage immediately following m.95, so I'm not quite ready to post the second theme just yet. Alternatively, maybe I should ditch the transitional passage and just cadence in G major in m.94, then leap straight into the second theme. :-D But since it starts out going all heroic with the horns (plus it's currently in F major), I think the transitional passage is probably necessary... that, or I'll have to pare down the thickness of the passage at D by a quite a lot.
About m.19, so you think the D# will sound really nasty? Should I just ditch the oboes then and have the clarinets play the answering phrase instead? Since after all, I did switch over to the clarinet in m.11 so there's precedent. :-P
m19, keep oboe for first 3 eighths, have cl1 double oboe and continue with obe part. Cl 2 plays what you have written.
A quick note about scores for winds.
Michael is correct, each player has their own part, the score shows both. If both parts appear on the same stave, you need to indicate (as you have done), which player is playing. The proper designations are 1o, 2o, or a2(a due). (The way you indicated is also acceptable.) Winds do not play divisi or unison. (Pet peeve of mine! lol). If the part is to be a featured line, then "solo" is an appropriate designation.
Normally, any individual line is played by the principle player (1o). What you did in m61 is perfectly acceptable with second players as the line builds. (Yes I know there are exceptions!)
I think a half time feel would be a nice change. Perhaps no transition per se. Think of a Sousa march going to the subdominant at the trio. Short and sweet transition.
I very much enjoyed this.
The revision question seems to center on just how much Klangfarbenmelodie you want in the piece.
The best way to determine that is with a lot of hard work: experiment with many, many variations of instrument combinations: flutes in low registers, playing with oboes (there can always be more of everything: more oboes, more English horns, more flutes, piccolos-- so there is really no question about whether an oboe or several oboes are "loud enough. The more the better, probably, but moments where the dynamics sink down to near quietude are also desirable, if only for one moment. There's a lot you can do with dynamics here. ) try oboes, flutes and English horns, and sometimes one or the other, or two different instrument sets playing just for a few notes, and switch these sets of notes around, many times, to see which sounds best with instrument or set of instruments, in each context.
The goal is not to muddy it, of course, but to make many sets of notes that have distinctive colors, that enliven the obvious and effective humor that is already here.
A piano can be added, just for a few emphases, here and there, as the Russians do (Prokofiev and Shostakovich), using it as a percussion instrument.
There is a lot more you can do with percussion, as well: all kinds of percussion, including wood blocks, triangles, cymbal clashes, gongs, tam-tam, glockenspiel, tubular bells, snare drums [EVERY march has to have snare drums, at least at some point]--I like the way it begins with timpani and moves to pz -- I would not change that. I like the fact that this has strings, and is not just band instruments. You can add trills and tremolos at certain key moments, if you wish, and that's always interesting, if done well.
You could experiment with more range, adding some instrumentation in parallel, as the piece develops, with fourths and/ or fifths at lower and higher ranges -- piccolos above and trombones or tuba below. More horns could play in more registers, especially in intervals of a fifth -- lets not forget what a wide range the horn has. The range of the clarinet is also underestimated, and what you do with the clarinet and oboe in duo is quite fine. Even more can be done, given the versatility of the clarinet. Let's not forget the bassoon and contra-bassoon can add considerable depth and emotional impact, especially if used sparingly.
I like the abrupt ending.
A lot of experimentation, rewriting and replaying of the work, so you can hear it in dozens of ways will help expand the imaginative palette of the work, and make the sound texture more brilliant and full.
Thanks, Ondib & Bob for your comments!
I actually originally envisioned this piece with snare drums for the first 37 or so bars. I just wasn't familiar enough with the instrument to have the confidence to write for it. Maybe I should spend some time to study it more. :-) As for more percussion, I will actually include cymbals at some point. Quite soon, in fact, after the segment I posted! Which, btw, was only an initial segment of the full piece, since I haven't scored the rest yet, so that wasn't really supposed to be an abrupt ending. But, coincidentally, the original transitional passage that I had in mind, the 1st bar of which begins at the last bar you hear, wasn't working out, so yesterday I decided on the radical decision to rip it out completely and instead abruptly interrupt the music at m.94, with the strings echoing the last 3 notes in bewilderment after a short pause, followed by the winds in a different key (ostensibly also out of bewilderment, but my sooper sekret plan was to deliberately get it into the key I wanted :-P), and then a short ascending passage in the strings and then a cymbal crash introduces the second theme. So as it turns out, there is an abrupt ending after all! I hope yall will like the result once I finish scoring the second theme.
Bob, I can easily make a score without empty staves removed, if you want -- the way I've set it up, it's extremely easy, just a 1-line change in my input file. (I could, in fact, have the software generate both versions at once, too. But that's just the computer geek in me trying to show off. :-P)
As for writing separate lines, I actually write every instrument (except the strings) individually; the combined score you see for the wind and brass is programmatically produced by my notation software. Currently for MIDI production I do use the combined staves, but it wouldn't be too much effort to set it up to do separate lines instead, since the input file already has them separated.
As for 1st and 2nd violins being separated, I'm of the minority camp that prefer the old orchestra seating where the 1st and 2nd violins are on opposite sides of the stage, rather than today's convention of putting them both to the left with violas in the middle and cellos and basses on the right. With the old seating, it would totally make sense to write for 1st and 2nd violins separately. I'm quite certain, for example, that Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony must have been scored with the old seating in mind, because otherwise the way he wrote the 1st and 2nd violins in the opening of the last movement simply doesn't make any sense: he has the 1st and 2nd violins play alternate notes of the main melody in turn, rather than giving the entire melody to either section. Such a strange scoring starts making sense if you consider the effect in the old seating plan: the melody notes would come from alternating sides of the stage, thus producing a very noticeable echoing effect. Under today's modern seating with both violin sections on the same side of the stage, this effect is lost, and all we have left is only an unusual way of writing a melody for 1st and 2nd violins -- and the convention of writing them on two separate staves.
Anyway, you're quite right about writing for unfamiliar instruments. I really should spend more time listening to pieces I have the score for, following each individual instrument to see how other composers use it. It's an excellent idea. Thanks for the suggestion!
Haha, I'd love to see the string players' faces at a marching cadence. :-D
You do have a point, though, that this is an orchestra, not a marching band. Despite the title, this is really supposed to be a faux march, not an actual one. (Otherwise I'd be scoring for euphoniums and sousaphones... and buying vacation tickets for the string players. :-P)