Music Composers Unite!
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?
Oh, okay I found it. I thought that was an alternate doc. file to the pdf; don't know why I didn't associate mp3 with sound file. Yes, it sounds marvelous. It has all the elements one would look for in a sonatina and truthfully if you'd told me they just discovered a Clementi Sonatina I would not be able to distinguish Clementi's crafrsmanship from yours. The transitions are way above what I usually hear from composers; modulating into an out of keys for color is difficult for most amateur composers, including myself, but you seem to do it with ease.
My feeling is the best way to approach a concerto is to start with a short one in the mold of Liszt No 1: four short movements linked together by cyclic thematic material. I my first concerto I recall starting with the second movement because the slow theme was what I started with. From there I worked it into the 1st movement as a vigorous allegro and in the concuding movement I made it the grand closing theme in augmentation form, stretching to double it's time length for effect. Much of this is stock technique done by numerous composers for the last 200 years and I didn't know better because it was the first serious thing I ever wrote. But you shouldn't let fear of a bad outcome stop you because each time you create something, whether god or bad, you grow in your power to express yourself the way you want to. The two concertos were powerful learning experiences for me, but I'm done with composing for the time being because I'm just too lazy to do it. It takes a great amount of effort mentally to put something down and I only had this dream to write a single concerto and, being dissatisfied with the 1st, I wrote the 2nd. But the biggest hindrance to any composer these days is getting it performed, which is why I have slim hope that it will ever be performed. The piano part is notorious difficult in some spots but the sound was what I was after, so I doubt any pianist is going to come forth to offer to do it unless he/she is well compensated. Same for an orchestra. That's why I advise to write short chamber works for a few players. They are much easier to get performed.
H. S. Teoh said:
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.)
You flatter me, but I don't think I'm quite at the level to be comparable to Clementi in any way! For one thing, I'm pretty sure he would have handled the form in a better way -- the development would be more well-rounded than what I have, and he would have avoided the repetitiousness that I find myself falling into every now and then.
About modulations, perhaps I'm somewhat comfortable with short-range transitions, having spent much of my youth listening to Beethoven and attempting to internalize his modulations (I didn't have the benefit of having a score to follow along at the time -- I must have spent hours, maybe even days, listening to select passages from his 6th symphony repeatedly trying to figure out, by ear, what chords exactly did he use, testing them out on the piano to see if I got it right). But I'm less certain about long-range modulation targets; it's kind of a hit-or-miss thing for me. For this particular sonatina, I spent a lot of time at the piano trying to improvise a suitable sequence of transitions in the development that would lead back to the home key in a satisfactory way.
This is why I alluded in an earlier response to looking for minimal changes that would address some of the concerns raised in this discussion that wouldn't require massive surgery of the development -- because if I needed to change the melody line or transition sequence in any non-trivial way, I wouldn't know how to get it back on track; I'd have to essentially rewrite the whole development sequence several times until I chanced upon the right sequence that would lead back to the home key.
Thanks for the tip about writing a 2nd movement first, though -- I don't think I've ever thought about approaching a multi-movement work in that way. Somehow I always get stuck in the rut that I can't get through the 1st movement, so I never get around to what follows. In fact, I do have at least two second movements in my mind that currently don't have a first movement to match them.
One is a sonatina-like piece in B flat that I composed almost immediately after this sonatina in E flat, ostensibly to follow it as a second movement, but ultimately developed in an incompatible direction (it has a violent middle section that really doesn't work well following the lighthearted mood of this E flat sonatina) so it's a standalone piece now. However, it doesn't work well as a standalone piece; it "wants" to be a second movement to something, I just don't know what, currently.
Another one is an unfinished melody idea that follows an as-yet unwritten tragic first movement of a symphony. In fact, now that I think of it, I even have a motif or two for the beginning of a 3rd movement in C minor, though that has also not progressed beyond just a vague idea so far. Missing are sufficient materials for the opening and closing of the symphony, ostensibly the most important parts!! But perhaps it's worth fleshing out the middle movements first, and maybe afterwards the appropriate opening/ending will come to me.