I am pleased to present the fully orchestral version of my Sinfonia Solenne, which I'm now calling my Symphony No. 1 and giving the opus number 2b (the finished strings-only version I posted last week is now my Op. 2a). There are a few new elements here, most notably that the work opens with a soft timpani roll, as does the recurrence of the main fugue; and in 3 passages in the score there is a sparse, very quiet bass line given tentatively to the timpani (I don't know how quickly timpanists can retune - if it's unplayable as written i can rescore the parts where pitch is essential for double basses, pizzicato).

The work is scored for two flutes and a piccolo, two clarinets and a bass clarinet, two oboes, cor anglais, two F horns and two C trumpets (I call for a D6 which I don't think a B-flat trumpet can reach - but I could be wrong), bassoon and contrabasson, trombone, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, a string quartet, and standard strings including double basses. The string ensemble is in some places reduced to 2 or 3 players per section for a purer, more transparent sound, but I do not call for a separate "chamber strings" choir as I did in the strings-only version. The low brass are used VERY sparingly, as is the piccolo. Percussion is limited to the timpani; this is mostly a slightly expanded classical orchestra; I think the size is similar to what Robert Simpson used for several of his symphonies.

The rendering was done with Sibelius + NotePerformer using Concert Hall reverb level. I do not like that much reverb and think the sound in this version is a little on the muddy side, but since that's the only kind of hall this version could be performed in, I felt I had to go with it. There are places where the inner voices are obscured a lilttle by the reverb, but others where the distinctive timbres helps to bring them out, so it might be a wash.

Final update I think, as of 01:00 UTC ib 3 June. I'm pretty satisfied with this - no really significant changes since last update, mostly refinements to dynamics and various hacks to make Sib / NP articulate the phrases clearly and correctly. If you held off listening because, aww shoot, she'll just make more changes, I think now would be okay. If you've already heard the orchestral version, no need to listen again unless you really want to. ;)

Audio file: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1NgmfgUOwyxlDcNOizRP2zUR9B5YehbHC/view?usp=sharing

Score used for rendering (meaning: here be hacks): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1D9TvbwdQyRsEzC9AZRt8C50PWbaUXa1T/view?usp=sharing

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  • Listened to it once with score.  Due to the size of the score, it was hard to follow; I couldn't see the notes clearly because of their miniscule size to fit the screen. I know it's probably a lot to ask (a lot of work involved), but it would be nice to condense the score somewhat, e.g., put pairs of winds on one staff, so that less vertical space is required.

    Re: trumpet high note: I think a skilled-enough trumpetist would have no problem reaching that note even on a Bb trumpet -- the baroque trumpeteers could hit the stratosphere with their impossibly high notes, for example.  Though in a symphony orchestra I'm not sure if the trumpets have adequate experience with the super-high register to be able to reach it with ease. Maybe they do, I don't know. But probably a safer bet to use a C trumpet just in case.

    Overall impressions: very faithful to the original strings-only version; I think the soft timpani rolls and use of wind solos to state the main theme are a clever touch that add a lot of atmosphere to the piece. I would extend the timpani roll just a tad longer, though -- perhaps until the 2nd voice enters, in order to maintain that suspenseful atmosphere. Loved those menacing-sounding muted horn/trumpet notes you inserted at strategic junctures. For the rest, I do see quite a bit of clever scoring with winds doubling the main lines, but due to the computer audio it wasn't as easy to appreciate the subtle timbral textures you wove. I'll have to revisit this with more careful attention to the scoring at some point.  In a performance by a real orchestra, I think the results would be much clearer.

    The scoring was pretty nicely done throughout in terms of maintaining that quiet, though inwardly turbulent mood.  I found the ending a tad weak, though; that final chord could possibly be a good place for a full orchestral tutti, just to add a bit more defiance to the hopefulness at the very end. Just IMO, of course.

    Listening to it again now to see what else I can pick up...

    • Hi H. S. - was just about to update the posting with a new rendering as I realized that some of the dynamics in Fuga III were a bit off, and I also inserted another "menacing muted trumpet note" at the point of deepest despair just before DD. Oh well, I'll post it in a few and you can listen to it or not, as you prefer. The changes are few and subtle.

      Yeah, the tabloid format is a problem; unfortunately, due to SIbelius's limited intelligence in formatting, the only way to condense the score would be to do as you say, put pairs of winds or brass on the same staff. While that can be done, it would defeat my intention to spatially separate pairs of winds that are intended to double the strings: chiefly flutes and oboes. And trying to put the score in letter-size or A4 format is unworkable and would result in staves overwriting each other.

      I've thought about extending the timpani rolls but I think to the entry of the second voice is too far and am not sure there is a good place before then. Maybe on the bassoon half note? I'll have to think about it some more.

      I agree that the final chord is a bit weak. I've thought about making it a true tutti - not quite sure how to do it due to issues of balance. I really don't want to fill in the chord any more since the wide spacing is exactly the effect I want, so the rest of the instruments will have to line up down starting at middle C. That's basically one trumpet, one horn and the low brass, and I'm concerned the low brass are going to make the chord very bottom-heavy. So I'll have to think more about this as well.

      Anyway, thanks for listening, and the feedback is much appreciated!

      Cheers,

      Liz

       

      • Sibelius' 1st symphony has an opening ppp timpani roll lasting for 16 bars, that's the kind of sound I have in mind. (May or may not be what you intend, though! I won't be offended if you ignore my suggestions. The important thing is for you to stay true to your artistic vision.)

        As for Sibelius' (the software's) limitations in formatting, I can totally sympathize. I personally use Lilypond in spite of its greater difficulty to learn, precisely because it lets me tweak things to my hearts' content. Even then, some things are just inherently hard -- Lilypond's automatic voice combiner regularly gives me all sorts of grief, esp. with complex polyphony in orchestral parts, and I have to resort to all sorts of hacks just to get it not to make my eyes bleed. I do like the IMO nicer visual quality of Lilypond scores over Sibelius or Finale, though. But years of grappling with score typesetting software has taught me that scores meant for typesetting should be essentially a separate thing from scores meant for driving computer audio. So in my Lilypond scores I frequently tag portions as "layout only" or "midi only"; that's the only way I could stop the two from destructively interfering with each other.  So yeah, I totally understand if you just don't want to put in the effort in tweaking the score any more than you already have.

        As for the final chord: I'll admit that I have little experience in writing for orchestra (that is to say, I write but have no idea how good/bad it is because the only feedback I have is computer playback, which I do not trust because it doesn't reflect real-life instruments accurately), so take my comments with a BIG grain of salt. Maybe the tuba could be left out (very likely to make it bottom-heavy), trumpet II could double trumpet I and trombones (or maybe just trombone I) double the violas, but only for the crescendo in the very last bar (or even only the last note, on the final crescendo)?  Just an idea.

  • More notes: at Y, I wonder if the timpani roll could begin earlier, at the preceding chord, so that as the sound of that cadential chord dies away, the timpani sound emerges from the background, increasing anticipation.

    Loved the fact that having a full orchestra at your disposal allows you to draw more contrasts between sections, as well as having dialogues between strings and winds for added variety.

    Re: the closing passage, I feel like KK should begin with a full orchestral tutti (not necessarily at full volume though), to lend a stronger sense of finality to the closing bars. At this point in the piece, holding back on your forces gives the false impression that more is to come; having all (or most) of the instruments join in at KK would tell the listener immediately, "this is it, the end is coming".  And I feel like that last chord should have the entire orchestra give it its all, the defiant light of hope piercing the darkness.

    Of course, these are all just my (probably highly biased) opinions. :-P  Take it with a big grain of salt.  I was looking forward to hearing this orchestration of your 20-min fugue AKA sinfonia solenne AKA symphony no.1, and you did not disappoint. Now the thing more I could wait for is for a real orchestra to play it. ;-)

    • Hi again, H. S.,

      You've given me a lot to think about and I've taken at least one of your suggestions.

      First, the ending: I discovered that the final chord wasn't as bottom-heavy as I expected with the low brass included, so I've worked out a way to make the ending stronger. Coming in with tutti at KK is not, I'm afraid, part of my vision for the work - the idea there isn't to announce the impending conclusion but to begin a brave march forward, all the while pulled toward the darkness of F minor. I tried bringing the tutti in on the 2nd beat of m. 752 (the moment where the music shouts a defiant no! to the darkness) but found the effect cheap, so I gather the forces gradually. But at m. 752 I now begin the final timpani roll. The final chord is tutti (except for the piccolo) and I think it's a lot stronger than before. Please listen when you have a chance and let me know what you think.

      But I *really* like your idea of using the timpani roll that begins Fuga III as a bridge from the ending of Interludio III - not so much to heighten anticipation, since this isn't the Great Summons from Mahler's Resurrection Symphony ;) - but because there have already been two significant silences in the last minute or so of music and another one here would tend to cause a loss of tension. So the timpani roll starts as you suggested, just before the final chord of Interludio III fades into silence and then continues.

      Both at the opening and there in Fuga III, the timpani roll now continues until the middle of the bassoon half note (the second quarter note is the timpani stroke).

      I didn't post my earlier audio file, but the one I'm preparing now will have all of today's mods. Anyone else reading this, please hold off on listening until I have a chance to post it (I'll announce that the audio file has been changed).

      Liz

       

      • The revised version is posted.

         

        • Listened to it twice with score.  Loved that new extended timpani roll at Y. That's an awesome bridge into Fuga III.

          The ending definitely sounds much stronger, and more satisfactory. And more defiantly hopeful. :-D  I was listening to it with volume turned up in order to catch the subtler nuances in the quieter passages, and that last chord was piercing!

          Something about the start of KK still seems less conclusive than perhaps it could be. The slower tempo definitely helps, but something seems still missing. I'm reconsidering my previous suggestion of a full tutti at this point -- you're right that it would be too strong and detract from your intentions. I'm wondering if a subtle timbral change might be the key.  I'm thinking something along the lines of the opening of the 2nd movement of Brahms' 1st symphony, where the main melody is doubled by a bassoon in order to impart a warmer feeling to it. In this case, though, warmer isn't what we're looking for; but I'm wondering if doubling the top melody an 8ve or two below by the bassoon might give it a subtle sense of conclusiveness without spoiling the feeling of darkness.  Or maybe even contrabassoon, but my gut feeling is that the bassoon timbre is more suitable for this purpose. The main idea is to give that final melody a more solid timbre but without making it too obviously conclusive. Doubling an 8ve or two below with a pungent timbre like the bassoon's should retain the dark feeling of F minor while imparting a subtly stronger sense of conclusion.

          But probably you'd have a better idea which instrument combination would work better. (Or whether to do this in the first place... that's really your decision to make, not mine.)

          • Thanks again H. S.!

            About KK: I'll play with some different timbres to see if I like any of them better, but really it is NOT supposed to sound conclusive at that point. That first phrase is about courage, which must always be aware of the chance of failure, and all the more so now with F minor in the wings, poised to pull us back into the darkness.

            I think I am going to have to redo the entire audio file if I make any more changes as I just noticed that Sibelius reset my performance preference to Espressivo AGAIN, which I had set to Meccanico at least twice already (Espressivo causes random fluctuations of tempo that are supposed to be expressive but are more often just weird - and there is enough difference in timing that splicing sections of audio files rendered with the two different settings is non-trivial, so much so that I usually don't bother to try).

            BTW I just noticed your new fugue thread this morning and listened once to both versions, without score... will really need to listen at least a couple times with score to make up my mind which version I like better. Just to let you know I'm aware of it, and it's on my to-do list.

             

            • About KK: well, you're the composer, so you should follow your vision for the work!  If you change something, I'm sure it will be for the better. If not, that will be fine too.  I already quite enjoy this piece as it is; can't seem to get its motifs out of my head for the past few days, it's that good.

              Yeah I've heard complaints about Sibelius being a little overzealous in "humanizing" the playback, to the point it munges the music instead of making it sound more "naturalistic".  For myself, I wish I had that problem. Currently the only "orchestra" I have access to is a medley of mismatching instrument patches of questionable quality (and definitely off-kilter balance) that I cobbled together over the years and, metaphorically speaking, taped together with the computer equivalent of scotch tape, so the results have not been very encouraging in terms of motivating me to write more orchestral works. And besides, with a young child to raise I barely have any free time, let alone the copious amounts required to complete an orchestral score, so I haven't done any orchestral writing at all lately. Oh well, such is life.

              About my fugue: thank you for taking your time! It's one of my less serious works (the subject is supposed to be a joke subject), but I did sincerely take it through the paces of fugal writing, so hopefully there's something in there to be liked. ;-)  Then again, many of my works have some inside joke to them, even if it's not obvious to anyone except me; hopefully this doesn't detract too much from the music itself.

  • I do think that the textural variety of the full score does certainly help to give the work the greater variability which I think it needs (and that can of course be disputed) and in generally is nicely done -- I find the high trumpets particularly powerful when they occur in reinforcing the drama. I'm not convinced by the cresc on the final chord -- presumably it was quite different in the original version -- but I suspect it's what you want.

    A general personal point -- I couldn't imagine being so particular about forever trying out different things to see if they work and fretting about certain aspect of a composition and trying to make everything perfect. Probably I should actually make more effort but in general I prefer to move onto new works rather than worry too much about existing ones. There are quite a few works where the ending takes me by surprise but I've never once considering changing one to a significant degree. In general, the original concept is the correct one and too much tinkering risks making a nonsense of the emotional logic (formal technical considerations rarely come into it -- the structure is derived from what is supposed to be expressed).

    That's just me. I think in general that you can be quite proud of this achievement!

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