I'm offering a work in progress here - this is VERY incomplete. The theme is based on the same Beethoven sketch on which Gerd recently wrote his wonderful Variations. Not to imitate - or detract from - Gerd's work, I wanted to take a different approach, to try to imagine what Beethoven might have done with the theme. My first impression was that the sketch would probably not have been the first 8 bars of a theme, but rather the last. So I tried to compose an appropriate beginning, and ended up making it into a ternary form with the first 8 bars a much more restrained variant of the Beethoven sketch, repeated, then 8 contrasting bars in the relative minor, and then finally a fully harmonized version of the sketch as written... all for string quartet, of course.

Then I started out last night to write variations... and finished the first variation this evening. The rendition is of the theme itself and that first variation - nothing more exists at the moment, and I feel the need to take a breather. I thought I would share what I've done so far and ask what everyone thinks of it. This is light years away from my usual idiom - I've never tried to do anything like this before - but I experienced intense joy along the way finding "inspiration in discipline". This first variation is extremely formal and mostly adheres to the harmonic structure of the theme. So there is almost no personal expression in it - it is severely objective and Classical. Maybe I'll loosen up later on, if I get that far with it.

Anyway, have a listen if you will. All comments are welcome, both positive and negative. If people who work in this idiom all the time think it doesn't work then I'd like to know that now! I'm very much a fish out of water with this.



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  • Rereading what I wrote about my work, I see that as usual, the words I used wouldn't exactly encourage someone to want to hear it. So I'll say a little bit more about the expression in the piece so far.

    If you listened to Gerd's work you know the "sketch theme", which is a typical late Beethoven theme, with an almost other-worldly beauty. I tried to stay faithful to that enraptured mood in my version of the basic theme and its setting for full quartet. The harmonization, and the theme itself as I conceived it, are not too far removed from the opening of the D major Adagio from Mahler's 3rd Symphony, which Mahler briefly titled "What Love Tells Me", and it's clear that he meant not worldly love but the love of God. So that is the basic mood.

    In the first variation, though, I intentionally avoided the Mahler-like progressions and instead wrote something that I hoped would intensify the mood of rapture, using higher registers and fewer chromatic passing-notes. The resulting mood does indeed sound exalted to me and Classically poised, but I'm not sure how close it comes to Beethoven - late Beethoven is pretty much inimitable anyway. But I think my variation has a rapt beauty all its own, something that surprised me since this style is not one that I would ever dream of expressing myself in.

    Anyway I hope that description inspires someone to take a listen...

  • Hi Liz, I listened to this and it does have the other worldly quality that you mention finding in Beethoven's theme. Your harmonization and variation maintains that sound nicely also. Without digging out my study notes I can't possibly comment on the classical authenticity and I'm certainly not qualified to comment on the Beethoveness of it. You are asking for something most of us aren't good at I think. But suffice to say that it sounds good and maybe my comment will bump you up to where someone more qualified can give us some insight.

    It's interesting to me how we love music from other cultures and find it difficult to express ourselves with authenticity in those styles whereas composers of that era probably didn't even have to think about what rules they might have broken. It's a bit unnatural but at the same time liberating and oddly exciting to work with those limits. I remember thinking, ' there are only two notes here that won't break a rule, here's my big chance at creativity!' Just kidding of course.

  • Hi Ingo,

    Thanks for your comments. The "discipline" I was referring to wasn't so much formal rules as the constraint of the structure of the theme, both melodic and harmonic. I know of a couple of places where I broke traditional rules of harmony - e.g. a couple of chords in second inversion which the old masters probably would not have used in those particular contexts... but I found working within the limits I described quite exciting and even liberating as you said. And when writing my earlier, very dissonant Quartet, I had forgotten the joy of creating sheer beauty for its own sake, without trying to express some personal turmoil or tragedy. Or maybe I had never really known it. It's been a surprising voyage of discovery for me - or at least, the start of one.

    Again, thanks for your encouraging words. They make me feel as if I'm not totally barking up the wrong tree doing this. I'm not so much concerned with complete technical authenticity anyway - I'm mostly trying to get the "spirit" of this kind of music right.

  • Hi Liz,

    I'm not entirely sure of what you've presented here - is the whole piece so far a variation or is it (as it could be) a statement of the theme and the first variation staring around bar 24?

    No matter. It's very nice - calm, the kind of thing in my imagination that should be played on the summer lawns of a small mansion at tea-time, far from the crowds of cities. A time to relax. You've certainly captured the feel of Beethoven. It could be among his middle quartets (as it stands). However, I also defer to Ingo's comment about how much I'm able to talk about its Beethovenness - not a lot though my own quartet writing was inspired by his quartets. Here, I just listened without any dissecting the harmony and stuff and it seemed to work wonderfully.

    I'm eager to hear further variations, maybe contrasting tempi - well, you're the composer so whatever you choose!

    I must however comment on how good the rendering sounds compared with your earlier foray into sound produced by notation software. This is good!

    I look forward to more.



  • Hi Dane,

    It's a statement of the theme and one variation, each 24 bars long (with the first 8 bars repeated)... though in a sense what I am calling the theme is also a variation, since only the last 8 bars are actually by Beethoven, and the setting for full quartet is mine. But I'm treating those first 24 bars as the basic theme and trying to write variations on it, the first one very formal, with some relaxation of the strictness in later variations.

    And thanks for your kind words about the piece so far, they mean a lot to me. I must clarify that I'm not really looking for feedback on the literal "Beethovenness" of it, as if I was trying to channel the man. I was more interested in whether people thought it approximated Beethoven's style, and in how well it worked just musically. There will be more to come, though I'm having trouble at the moment with the second variation. That first variation was kind of a lightning-strikes where-did-that-come-from inspiration and that's just not happening again right now. I'll keep playing with it and see what I come up with. Yes there will be contrasting tempi - I'm aiming for a wide range of variations, probably one or two variations in the minor, maybe a fugue or fugato later on (which is part of why I'm working on a Ricercare in the meantime).

    I'm sort of astonished, though, that you think the sound is really good. To me the 1st violin sounds very scratchy, particularly in the upper registers in the variation. I even took a more recent rendering and burned it to a CD so that I could listen to it on my "audiophile" system, and the distortion is definitely in the audio file and not my crappy computer sound system. As to the rendering, it is with NotePerformer running in Sibelius - my first attempts in my earlier quartet were with MuseScore, though I'm pretty sure I also posted revisions that were also rendered with NP in Sibelius.


  • Ah, ok. Well, the first violin did sound a little weak at the start of the variation but in general it was well above the early renderings of your quartet. 

    Ingo would probably know more about this than me but for the sake of the sound would it be possible to duplicate the Violin 1 line from bar 24? No use in a score obviously but for the rendering itself?

    But...I await the development. I sense it might be difficult... like I'd feel if prompted to do a set of variations on the opening movement of B's Op 131 Quartet! 

  • Hi Dane,

    I'm not sure what you mean by "duplicate" (referring to the violin 1 line starting at bar 24)? Do you mean splice in a rendering done differently? I'm sure that could be done with a daw, ;) but I don't have that capability. If it was just weakness, I could of course boost the 1st violin's volume but it's not just weakness, it seems to be some kind of distortion as well. If I play back just the violin line it sounds fine, so it must have to do with a beat between the pitches of the instruments, or of their harmonics. I also hear it using Sibelius Sounds, so it's not in NP's sound library. I hear it a little in MuseScore too now, though I have to crank up the volume and it's to a much lesser degree. I admit that I don't know too much about how audio is produced digitally, and whether the digital format varies between different softwares' playback systems.

    Wow, I couldn't imagine trying to do a set of variations on that complete movement (a fugue as I recall)! This SHOULD be much easier, at least at first glance. What is giving me trouble is the first 8 bars, because they are so restrained, compared with the last 8 bars which were actually by Beethoven, at least the violin 1 line. By themselves they don't seem to suggest too much, and what I've tried so far has either left me cold or felt very derivative... a pizzicato version that strays too close to Variation 2 of Op. 109, or a bit of rustic humor (think LvB's Pastoral Symphony) that doesn't seem to quite fit... maybe as a later variation. I'll think more on it. Right now I'm kind of into the Ricercare, which starts out very Bach-like and then gets tonally restless, and will eventually go very far afield and turn strikingly dissonant (so far only in my imagination).

    So many possibilities, so little time!


  • Liz I have only owned NP for a few months now and I have hearing problems and some other excuses as well so . . . but  I think what Dane means is to add another staff with another instrument in sections as needed.  You have five violin sounds to choose from and some are intended as  ensembles of course but we need to think outside the box here.  You have dynamic markings but you also have a mixer that gives you finer control over volume level. Sometimes it's necessary to have two scores, one for playback and one to publish for real players.

    I feel you should not rule out using a DAW. I know this stuff is all overwhelming but one step at a time is easy to handle. DAWS are cheap and if you can deal with the intricacies of Sibelius DAWS are easy by comparison. Adjusting timing, tone and volume are all much easier in a DAW, just saying. And there are sample libraries that are free. Kontakt and Spitfire have free good quality instruments that you can mix and match with NP or VSL or live players even if you use a DAW.

  • Hi Liz,

    No, about duplicating. Forget it. Even the slightest latency (delay - even 1/10 of a millisecond at those frequencies) would make it sound like 2 violins playing or give a phasing effect, which is not what you want. Even with a daw it would need very careful adjustment if possible at all. Fast as computers might be, they have to deal with each thing we do in turn so there are always delays in turning notes on and off..

    I spoke out of turn there. Sorry.

    If ever you write a piece for a string orchestra it's a way of bolstering the sound, though - create a second '1st violins' track (stave), call it 'violins 1a' or some such then copy the relevant notes onto it. 

    = = =

    Yes, so little time! I'm working on an orchestral thing and have truly learned to 'split' (the whole work vertically) and 'glue items!" It took a lot of courage to get that sorted out, the likelihood of things getting out of step so thank goodness I learned how. I must have done more of adding and removing chunks than I've written notes.... but like you, I have what I want in mind and won't stop until it's there!


  • Hi Ingo,

    No, I don't mean to say that I've ruled out getting a DAW. It's just my preference is not to go that route unless I'm forced to. What would force me is if, say, Arne's people can't or decide not to fix the solo string timing problems in NP, or the fix comes with side effects that I can't live with. Even then, my first choice would be to try to get a quality sound library like VSL to work with Sibelius. But if it turns out there is no workable way to do that, then sure, I'd (reluctantly) invest in a DAW and struggle to learn how to use it to best effect.

    As to the mixer in Sibelius, yes, definitely, I've used it to adjust the volume levels of the instruments, as well as pan etc. The problem with actually redoing a demo, of course, is the NP timing problem, because it takes a lot of work, cutting and pasting in Audacity, to produce a demo that's free of noticeable timing errors. With my Ricercare it's going to be hard to do it even once because there are almost no pauses. That means pops and clicks at the junctions that are usually impossible to get rid of completely (at least using Audacity, maybe there are better editing tools out there for click removal). Luckily I'm not seeing the need to tweak anything with the mixer, and also I'm hearing very little of the distortion I noticed in the Beethoven variation.

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