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Here's a sonatina for solo piano that I wrote back in December 2000, which I recently dusted off the shelf (figuratively speaking), touched up a little bit, and typeset a nice score for using LilyPond.

I'm looking for general feedback on strengths/weaknesses to keep in mind for future compositions. I'm not really looking to revise this old piece too much, since as somebody once said, revising completed pieces tends to make them worse rather than better, but I would greatly appreciate advice that can be applied for future pieces. Note that the mp3 is made from a midi rendition of the piece, and while I did try to make it at least tolerable, I didn't put too much effort into making in production quality -- that's not my goal. So I'm not really looking for feedback on the mp3's quality, but more on the musical content itself.

More specifically, though, I'm curious about what people think of the phrasing of the  melody line. Specifically, I chose this particular piece as followup to the discussion on 8- or 16-bar themes, because it sports a 10-bar theme (5-bar melody + 5-bar answer) in the first subject. Do you think this works well? Would it have been better if it was a 4-bar melody + 4-bar answer to make an 8-bar theme?  What about the second subject, which is built up from 3-bar phrases? Would it have been better to use 4-bar phrases here?

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Also, on a more minor note, what's the correct notation for the pp chords in the opening bars? I have in mind a kind of light tapping of the chords with very short note value, like a staccatissimo but without the forcefulness, but I'm not sure how to indicate that. Writing "p pp p pp" looks really awkward to me. Any ideas?

I actually do hear an 8-bar theme in the beginning, extended by an ornamental development right before the cadences in the "call and answer" phrases (between measures . If you go to measure 72 (with the pick-up in measure 71), the 8-bar theme exists without those extensions.

The dynamics don't look awkward to me.

Oh yes, I think this is a delightful bit of music!

Staccato indicates a short note duration, not it's dynamic. You can have a pp staccato note/chord if you want.

It's very nice, I like the main theme and you have utilised it well. I found some of the exposition to be a bit monotonous because of some repeating phrases and I'd like the development to be slightly longer and and more explored. Right now it ends very abruptly at ms 60 and it doesn't suit it at all. Other than that it works well.

Thanks for the feedback! I'll leave the pp markings as-is, then.

Janet, are there any online resources where I can learn more about this ornamental melody development? I think I understand what you mean, but I feel like it's an area that's still somewhat murky to me.

Spiros, what could I have done to make the exposition less monotonous? I agree that there's a lot of repetition in it, but I'd like to know what ways I could use to alleviate that. Also, how would you have extended the development, if you were writing this piece? What other ways would you have explored the themes?

Hi H.S.,

As we talked about on another thread, which I see you have linked to from your post here, irregular phrase lengths (meaning not a multiple of 2, 3, or 4) can work if well done. I see in your post here an initial phrase of 5 bars, followed by 4 bars, followed by other phrase lengths. These all seem to work as far as I can tell, I think you have creditably established that you know what you are doing.

Thanks!

I don't know, something in ms 18-28 is bugging me, but I can't put my finger on it. Perhaps this repeat of the figure in ms 18-19 on ms 20-21 is what's breaking the balance here. I kinda expect it to go further, but it goes to C again (the leading voice of that chord), and it just gives me that weird feeling. Try playing around with that, see if you can give it some extra something.

You can always add some variety by simplifying the first appearance of that phrase, then repeating it as already done. Also, those second notes on the first beats can be turned into a voice of their own (notated on a different voice, as 1/2's), giving it all some extra depth- you can even give it some more variety by writing a counter melody of some sort.

I know a pianist could work with such a trick in the context of a performance and some nice voice interplay can be introduced through something so simple. You can sometimes miss those little things when working on a notation program, because you can't establish that connection with the performance aspect of the piece.

Actually, this piece was mainly transcribed from my own playing (though I have to admit my piano skills are sub-par). Generally I try to avoid relying solely on a notation program when composing for the piano, because it's all too easy to write something awkward or impossible to play. I originally had those second notes written as quarter note chords in a secondary voice to the 8th note figures, but later on changed my mind because it would be impossible for the pianist to hold the Eflat-C chord and play the descending Bflat A G F figure in its entirety. But I suppose it's better to notate intent, and let the pianist worry about the performance details, like whether to skimp out on holding the chord for its full length, or figure out some other trick to play it. When I play, I use the pedal (perhaps a bit too much) anyway, so it's not a big deal to notate the intent rather than the actual execution on the piano.

As for something bugging you about ms 18-28, I'm almost certain it's the indirect consequence of having a 6-bar phrase instead of an 8-bar phrase, which is what I was trying to get at in my original question. I think subconsciously, when you hear the first 6 bars, you expect another 2 bars to round off the phrase, but instead you get cut off by the repetition of the phrase. And it doesn't help that the first two bars of the phrase repeat themselves, so you get into this murky zone where it sounds like the melody is an 8-bar AABA, but then you hear another A followed by an unexpected B, and it turns out to be actually AABAAB, and you're left wondering what's going on with the phrasing.

I'm not sure how to fix this without doing some major dissection of that passage, though. :-(

Hi Susan, thanks for taking the time to listen to my music, and for your kind words!

I am new here too, in fact. I just joined over the weekend because I had been composing "in the closet", so to speak, and had been dying to find an outlet for my work!

Perhaps you are right, that it's not really a problem with the 6-bar phrasing. Perhaps it's just the amount of repetition that's involved. I suppose if I add some variation to the repetitions, it might fix the problem, I'm not sure. I'll have to think about how I might do that without some major rewriting, which I don't really want to do at this point, since this piece was written almost 15 years ago!

In any case, I'll definitely keep in mind for the future not to overuse repeating material, or to make sure each repetition has some interesting variation instead of just repeating verbatim.

Yeah, m.48-49 have kind of a sudden transition. Well, actually two sudden transitions in a row, from A minor to F major and then to B flat minor. Theoretically, not too bad a modulation sequence, but it happened in a rather short span of time given the gentler harmonic transitions in the rest of the piece. I'm aware of this, but don't know how to fix it without some major surgery on the development.

Thanks for your feedback and kind words!

HS, I couldn't find the audio but I did read your score and it's obvious even in 2000 you had mastered the art of smooth key transitions. Your move from E-flat to B-flat in the exposition is very nicely done and you move easily through a series of distant harmonies to add a bit exotic flavoring yet always wind up exactly where you want to be. Examples like E-flat maj/ e-flat min/ B-flat maj/b-flat dim./F maj suspend/ F Maj/F7/ B-flat Maj--these are all signs of a composer well grounded in theory. Other places I could mention. If I had any criticism I'd say I wished you might change the second series of E-flat chords that open the exposition just slightly rather than do four identical E-flat Maj chords, but that's a very minor thing. Overall, it's very nicely done. Time to move onto a piano concerto or concertstucke. I didn't know how to orchestrate when I first started about 5 years ago. I just experimented on the notation program learning the ranges of the instruments and their transpositions (writing horns up a fifth, clarinets down a step, etc.) and chose which sounds I liked. Try it.

Thanks for your kind words!

Doesn't the mp3 file play for you? It is the second attachment, right below the score. Or does your browser have trouble playing mp3 files? Perhaps you could try saving it to disk and playing it from there using media player or something?

I have been writing pieces for ensembles and orchestra, but I'm relatively unhappy with how they turned out. I'm not giving up, though! My dream has always been to write an epic symphony... That's still a long ways off, but hopefully I'm inching closer, bit by bit! There is a little overture in F for a small orchestra that I composed in the more recent years, that I'm in the middle of revamping, because the orchestration was rather weak. Once I finish setting up a properly-balanced set of instrument soundfonts, I should be able to get back to working on that.

And on that note, I do have the beginnings of a piano concerto that's been sitting on the backburner, but it's nowhere near the epicness of yours, by any measure. :-)  All I have for it right now is just a single melodic idea, with several alternative passages that it might develop into, and a vague idea that the second subject should feature a lot of broken octaves, but nothing beyond that. I feel that my inferior piano skills are a hindrance to developing this any further, due to ignorance about what the piano is capable of. (I mean, I listen to many piano concertos and know some of them quite well in my mind, but they are far beyond my skill level and I wouldn't be able to distinguish between a well-written virtuosic passage vs. an unplayable pattern of random notes splattered on the page. Not even to speak of writing such a passage.)

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