Two part invention after a phrase from Zemlinsky’s second string quartet
This is for the OCA course on Composing Music, module 1, part 4 as an unassessed project. A two-part invention (very short!), it works for oboe and cor anglais (shown at concert pitch). The augmentation is double with imitation at the tone, inversion between the two instruments and tonal inversion within the main theme itself
This is just part of coursework on imitation in counterpoint rather than a formal assignment.
The short piece for descant recorder, orchestral cimbalom and tubular bells experiments with both inversion of notes and is quite strictly retrograde (with the exception of some dynamics). Writing retrograde music has some ambiguities for percussion instruments – assuming a longer note tails off, and is not to be ‘acoustically’ reversed then the accents fall against different notes in other parts.
The audio file generated by Sibelius is probably easier listening than apparent from the slightly formidable-looking score:
The basic writing is founded on the note layout in the bass part of the cimbalom where two whole-tone scales are opposite each other, displaced by a semitone. This means that for easy beating of fast music, alternative notes can be chosen from each whole-tone scale. The impression is nearly but not quite twelve-tone, and I supplied some missing notes in other parts but have not gone to the extremes of avoiding any repetition before completion of the ‘series’.
To enhance further the Balkan element I have written for the recorder some quarter tones (there is a whole book written on these and published by Moeck). In a sense this ‘permits’ the recorder to play ‘out of tune’! Unlike the arabic or Turkish ‘makams’ elsewhere on this site, these notes lie centrally between the two neighbouring semitones.
OCA music composition module 1 Project 6 exercise 47D
This is, for once, programme music with homage to Berlioz following ‘Symphonie Fantastique’
The xylophone represents the farm cart (possibly a spectral and skeletal one made in bones), the oboe the keening relatives, the tenor drum the revolutionary guards and at the end, you hear the guillotine and its result.
This is a sort of counterpoint though the oboe tune tends to pick a note from the relentless xylophone toccata. This will be so fast that the ear does not easily perceive individual notes.
If even playable, this will admittedly not be easy…I fully expect a squawk from the oboe at the end and possible squeaks around the highest notes. These days xylophone players seem to use four sticks but I imagine the problem in using them at this speed, or close to it, will be achieving an equal spacing of notes.
Free 10 bar counterpoint for any combination of instruments: Project 11 example 47C
Here I intended to write for trumpet and horn in F but finding the horn part rather high, changed to trombone which seems to match better. The only real problem in this quite conventional piece is working out which key it is in! At first I scored in A flat major but after a few listenings, it seems to end on an imperfect cadence hence feels in D flat major but in the Mixolydian mode, i.e. the piece is centred (starting and finishing) on the dominant A flat but has frequent G flats; more frequently since I edited the last two to make this firmly in the Mixolydian.
The parts are marked ‘nobilmente’ even though the 3/2 time signature traditionally (in baroque times) is used to imply quite a slow tempo.
Next step is to study some modes more thoroughly, and possible quartal harmony ready to write something for xylophones (each with two mallets) in the example 47D. This may be useful preparation for the longer assignment 4 in due course.
This little example in both free counterpoint and free thythm required adding a second part. I used tuned percussion and the decay of the notes allows more dissonant voicing than would be pleasant with sustained notes. Essentially the two parts each contribute alternately to a single line in the central part of the bar where the top line is holding for more than crotchet at a time:
Here is just the audio file of a second example where I made the supplied bass line a bassoon part and added a cor anglais line. This feels a bit unimaginative so I may return to this one in due course. Arguably the challenge arises in the four-time repeated C sharps in the supplied second part: starting four bars out of a mere 8.
The task was to link three or at the most four chords to make a two-minute piece in free counterpoint for woodwind trio. My feeling was that this was going to be far too slow a harmonic rhythm. So first I wrote a chord sequence VI II V I with various passing notes and chord extensions. This needed to be in nine- or ten-part harmony to allow each part freedom within the written notes. At one point I was thinking of providing a repeating rhythmic pattern in the form of ‘minimalism’, but the eventual work only has one section, on the extended V chord, with such repeats to try and counter the static harmony.
This recording is much compressed in time relative to the two minutes as thirty seconds per chord on average is just boring.
As completed, the full expansion of each chord has its own mood, from quite jaunty in the VI II section (over four bars of 12/8), to frenzied in the V chord and then relaxing, slowing in the rate of melodic movement and finishing with a rather sparse section.
The added notes (e.g. minor 9th against major third on a rootless V7 chord) and ‘frozen’ passing notes allowed some quite jazzy melodies e.g. bar 19 where the ninth note G rather than the root F starts the tune, and D is a submediant, effectively an added sixth as the basic chord is already the tonic. The development of the initial motives (the ‘turn’ and ‘arpeggio’) does I trust come across quite clearly to the ear in the final version at the top.
Any harmonic change at intervals less than about two bars is therefore implied – and vitally necessary. This is not the introduction to Siegfried, and I do not have all the resources of an orchestra to vary tone colour against static harmony.
I felt that this exercise was poorly placed in the sequence of challenges in the course. It is in section 3 while section 4 actually teaches a limited set of counterpoint skills, and in section 4 assignment 4 the 3-minute piece for two instruments (with optional added fixed-pitch percussion) is less restrictive than a two minute work with such restricted harmonic change.
The following was set as Exercise 39D requesting a descant. After studying Anatolian folk music I decided this should be monodic, accompanied only by a drone and small two-sided hand-drum.
However in the course of this, I was exploring the different ‘makam’ or modes in Arabic and Ottoman music and have used the quarter-tone addin in Sibelius to supply appropriate pitches from the ‘Rast’ tetrachord and pentachord.
In the score file here there are more detailed notes on instrumentation options and performance:
Below is the .wav file where you can hear microtones on two different notes of the scale Sibelius does not play all the short trills indicated as + on the upper (melody) wind instrument e.g. bey. Also some of the written trills on the percussion have a strange rattley sound in Sibelius. I notated one as demisemiquavers but consider this confusing and too limiting on the performer to notate all of them this way.
I found it interesting that after exposing the listening ear to a pitch for the minor submediant that is half way between the dominant and minor seventh note of the scale, the ‘western’ fully flattened minor submediant is the note (in the penultimate bar) that sounds out of tune: too flat.
There are many sources of detail on makam and microtones e.g. Wikipedia. This may not be totally reliable so I have ordered a couple of textbooks on this and may post more detail later. The following empirical study casts much light on how these folk songs are pitched in Eastern Cyprus, drawing on both the Eastern Orthodox (classical greek) modes and Turkish modes:
Neither of these is exactly in agreement with the westernised ‘church’ modes and they require somewhere between 24 and 53 – possibly 31 – microtones to the octave to match the consistently sung pitches. I have experimented using a cornetto to find fingerings for both the half-sharp notes and can provide more details on request.