26 July 2017

Intermezzo makeover

So the question arose: was I going to need to “clean up” the rest of the Intermezzo, in a similarly heavy-handed manner?

No matter. I’ll do whatever is necessary

For all the second-guessing and repairs on the string choir opening, when the woodwinds have an “answering fugato” later, I felt that the quintuplets are just right.

I made very slight local adjustments here and there as I brought the new Sibelius file up to date; I have found the Ur-text largely satisfactory withal.

My notes on Sunday’s draught of Intermezzo II:
  1. mm.15-18 are exactly what the original showed.  I feel strongly that I need to do something here.
  2. mm.19-27 – Apart from the suspended cymbal stroke (m.21), this is literal from 2006.  I rather think something is needed here, too.
  3. mm.28-34 are a slight elaboration upon the original.  I think it works fine.
  4. mm.35-45 – Some minor additions (the piccolo & flute 2 lines, most notably).  I really like this.
  5. [ D ] I feel that the seam requires some touch-up;  otherwise, I am 80% sure I pretty much like it as is.
  6. [ E ] through [ G ] the picc is a new addition (so, yes:  previously this was all straight timpani cadenza – which was quite possibly insane).
  7. [ G ] through [ H ] is literal from 2006, and I like it just fine.
  8. [ H ] through [ J ] – The only new touch is the English horn; I think all this good.
  9. [ J ] – Once this gets going, it’s just what I wish. mm. 114-115 are a recent modification; but I feel that the seam needs some further work.

25 July 2017

henningmusick: Reserving the right to shake things up

henningmusick: Reserving the right to shake things up:

Mind you, when I wrote on Wednesday that the question of the text is completely settled, I might have written instead, I have a text I like, so there is no pressure.
Leafing through Leaves of Grass yesterday, I found a favorite passage in Song of Myself which might serve just as well, or even better. Or perhaps (since Whitman's lines can be wilful in their variable lengths, not that I consider that at all a bad thing, as a reader) I may toss a salad of suitable ingredients, from the two passages I have this week been perusing.
Meanwhile, Lee has come through with a complete verse rendering of The Mysterious Fruit, will give that a close read today. As I am not sure when the Song of the Open Road project may actually materialize, I am reassigning Op.123 to The Mysterious Fruit.

Thus, three years ago today marks the official start of work on The Mysterious Fruit (although it wound up as the Op.124).

24 July 2017

The ongoing Star Trek survey

As was the case with the Twilight Zone and Monty Python, I did not much watch Star Trek as I was growing up, but I was aware of it mostly through the enthusiasm of certain schoolmates.  Between what I was told, and the occasional excerpt which I did see (did I see the entire episode with the Horta? I am not certain that I did), I knew the characters, was inclined (by virtue of resonant enthusiasm) to feel benevolently about them, but – I wasn’t emotionally invested in the show.

I was not a Fan.  Nor do I think it really possible at this point to determine whether the Snobbery Divide came from my side (which I doubt, for that time) or from the genuine Fans, of whose club I could not be an initiate.

It is possible that I watched the first Star Trek movie, but it made no impression greater than as a kind of 2001 Lite.  I do not remember anything in particular about it, now.

I certainly watched The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock on the big screen, back at the time of their release, and I liked them very much, right off.

Since then, the two or three times when I watched an episode from the show (generally on a b&w small screen) I was mostly aware of quarrels to pick.  My fondness for the recent movies notwithstanding, I had become something of a Star Trek skeptic.  (This is mere reportage, not defense.)

My roommate in Buffalo was a fan of the new show (the Next Generation).  Worth pointing out for the record that, not while I was a student, nor anytime since, have I ever been a regular viewer of any TV show as it has initially rolled out.  I knew students who were as diligent as I and more, but who were dedicatees of one show or another (The Simpsons were a regular ritual at the house in Rochester, which was large enough that I could pursue my own activities undisturbed in another room).  So I did not join Tim in his devotion to the new Star Trek, but I did indeed enjoy the occasional episode (or part thereof) which we watched together.

This is not Star Trek Confessions;  I am only marshalling all the pertinent facts.

(Well, all right, I’ll skip ahead a bit.)

At last (50 years after their original airdate) I am watching my way through the first season of Star Trek.  And, even though I have enjoyed the occasional quibble, after the eighth or ninth episode, I found myself converted into fandom.  I am even verging upon . . . bingewatching.  But only when I have downed tools for composing.

There are spoilers hereon out.  Because, like myself, maybe there are some for whom the viewing is fresh, and I have appreciated watching them without already knowing how they play out.

“Miri”:  I had watched this one on DVD not long ago.  Made an even better impression this second time.  In general, I may not be crazy about the occasional flirtsipoo Captain-&-Yeoman subplot, but I suppose that is an artifact from the era.

“Dagger of the Mind”:  Especially strong, I think, and the strength is underpinned by guest James Gregory.  The “mind meld” is an effective plot device here.

“The Corbonite Maneuver”:  I had actually seen this once on a time, but I had forgotten just how it plays out (apart from a suspicion that the alien as first viewed was, well, obviously a dummy, even by production values of the time).  Very good;  short of great, perhaps, because I am doubtful of the artistic satisfaction of the “Oh, I was only pulling your chain” conclusion.

“The Menagerie”:  Very strange to say that I had never seen this before, even though I remember repeatedly in the past seeing the invalid Capt Pike on a TV screen.  Great story, if arguably flawed (if Commodore Mendez is an illusion courtesy of the Talosians, why does the illusion threaten to shut Spock up?)

“The Conscience of the King”:  I almost want to upbraid a script whose title comes from Hamlet, but which opens with a scene from Macbeth.  Could the perp really have set a phaser to overload, secret it in Kirk’s cabin, and be gone, all in time for it to be a threat to the Captain?  Lucky thing there was that dumbwaiter, too.  In spite of all these (and the show’s apparent ongoing mission to have Kirk be “Mister Lovey-Dovey,” and the villain’s lost mind at the end) I’d call it a success.

“Balance of Terror”:  Possibly the first ‘perfect script’ I have come to watch.  I had only the night before re-watched The Search for Spock, so imagine my pleasure upon seeing Mark Lenard playing the Romulan commander.

“Shore Leave”:  Overall enjoyable, but I think it’s a half-hour show which was padded out to the full hour.

“The Galileo Seven”:  The hermetic separation of logic and feeling in the character of Spock, while inherently interesting and a key driver of so many plot elements, is of itself essentially problematic.  Spock is in danger of being something of a wooden caricature in this one (a pity, as it is his first command);  and I am not sure that Kirk is able to drag his heels past the deadline (when Commissioner Farris had been so ready to remind him, with annoying frequency, how little time he had) in order to save his crewmembers.  Best Scottie/Spock relationship building to date.

“The Squire of Gothos”:  Of course, I love the Scarlatti.  As with “Charlie X,” the deus ex machine ending is an amateurish disappointment.  One completely understands how William Campbell found it a thoroughly fun role to create.

This weekend, I also revisited the two abovementioned movies.  In The Wrath of Khan, I may never understand how it was that Chekov survived having that vile creature in his head.

And while my enjoyment of both Khan and The Search is confirmed, I found myself annoyed with Horner’s music in both soundtracks, which in more than one cue feels unseemly close to a John Williams pastiche.

Horner’s music did not bother me (i.e., I did not feel otherwise than that it ‘belonged’) when I first watched the two movies, which would have been while I was at Wooster.  The source of my recent problem, as it were, is that I am finally watching the series itself.  The show’s atmosphere is very well enhanced by Alexander Courage’s score;  in contrast, Horner serves up what strikes me as boilerplate space-swashbuckling music.

The discussion is apt to veer towards ethics when the subject is Horner’s work, but neither are we in the position to disentangle the composer’s role and choices, from the demands of the production (“Give us something just like Star Wars...”)  There is a well-loved tune in Star Wars (itself related interestingly to a Leitmotiv from The Ring) which Horner manages to echo in The Wrath of Khan, and, why yes, he brings it back at a key dramatic moment in The Search for Spock.

Mind you, while the springboard here has been my expression a degree of disappointment at the artistic effect of the character of Horner’s score, I am not (presently) concerned with the ethics angle.  The broader question of reference/appropriation has been uppermost in my mind as I have continued work on White Nights—though to be sure, all the material is my own—as I find use in these later scenes for material already exposed.

In Praise of Artistic Dissatisfaction

In the electronic folders, I have a PDF of the ancient Finale file (2006) of Intermezzo II for White Nights.  And what if it’s rubbish? I found myself asking. I hadnt really planned to work on it Friday evening, yet I proceeded to set up the score in Sibelius; and since the number begins with a string fugato, I went ahead and plugged those notes in.  But I was not much pleased with the music.

Was I just tired? Or does that passage really need to change or even to be discarded?

Of course, I left the question until Saturday morning, and watched some Star Trek instead.

Gentle Reader, let me not shrink from reporting that I was a bit annoyed with this experience ... for more than 10 years now, in the back of my mind Intermezzo II was “more or less done,” a complete composition of 127 measures, needing mostly finishing (dynamics, especially).  And I thought I remembered liking the opening string fugato back when I composed it.  (Is that trivial?  Of course I did not write it so that I should not like it.)  Friday night, though, looking and listening attentively again at last, I was disappointed.  It would perhaps be overstating it to say “severely disappointed,” but there was indeed an element of severity just in the disappointment.

Saturday morning, after a night’s rest, though, I thought the fugato recoverable.  The character which I require of the music found interference in the rhythmic ambiguity of the quintuplets, and I believed that if I simply recast that rhythm, the passage would do exactly what I require of it.

In context, then, it might not be the “age” of the Henningmusick which was the difficulty, but a bit of cabin fever.  At the time, I had a critical mass of the ballet already composed, and the ballet had (what is artistically the good thing) established its own soundworld.  Compositionally at the time, I was eager to explore somewhat wilder pitch worlds and textures (2006 was the year of the Studies in Impermanence, Out in the Sun, and the Evening Service in D with its at-times abstract writing not only for the trombone duo interludes, but in e.g. the Magnificat).

So I think that what I found objectionable to this fugato which opened the White Nights Intermezzo is, that at the time my writing style wanted to take a contrasting excursion, but that this Intermezzo is not the fit destination for it.  And perhaps it took this year’s reimmersion into the ballet for me to see it.

So, I took a Good Hard Look.  The composer was morally prepared to scrap the lot and start over, if necessary.  Well?

I found that the pitch-world is fine, just as I wanted.  What was I unhappy with?

As noted above, the quintuplets result in a fuzzy rhythmic profile, exactly the opposite of what I was trying to achieve.  And texturally, the double-bass does not participate in the imitation;  the objection being, the inverse of Goldilocks:  whether the solution is less of it, or more of it, as it is, it’s just wrong.

My initial attempt at a solution took as a premise, that perhaps I got the tempo wrong.  And since what I objected to was the clarity of flow, perhaps the remedy was, a faster pace.

Although the result was indeed an improvement in the rhythmic definition...the ratcheting-up of the passage’s energy level was contrary to my conception of the passage, of the opening of the Intermezzo.  And I felt that the more business-like pace aggravated my dissatisfaction with the double-bass line.  A further discovery:  at this tempo, I learned that I was not at all happy with the three successive quintuplet figures in the first violin.

The solution:

Lose the quintuplets; make the rhythm more (one of my evergreen takeaways from studies with Judith Shatin) specific.   I was therefore not content with just one “replacement rhythm,” but gave my whimsy leave.

Give the double-bass more to play, giving the passage a consistent “bottom.” Have the cello (before its own participation in the imitation) partly double that bottom (at the traditional octave).

Further enrich the texture with new gestures by the second violin and viola.

Result:  In all ways, an improvement, and also a spiritual “restoration”:  the character of the string fugato passage now, is as I had always wished/envisioned it.

21 July 2017

henningmusick: Seems to Have Worked

henningmusick: Seems to Have Worked

This post remains something of a mystery.

Separately, I do really, truly think that Scene 10 is done.

And, as an ongoing method, if it takes me a week to secure unalloyed certainty about three minutes of music ... White Nights will still be completely finished this side of Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow morning, then: Intermezzo II, and some more detailed musical plotting of the 38 minutes of music remaining to be written.

19 July 2017

Love’s Laser-Like Labors (Nearly) Loosed

Last night, Gentle Reader, I worked faithfully on Scene 10 of White Nights, and made the changes which I had planned. And—without sinking into the trap of There must always be changes to consider—this morning, the (genuinely) improved Scene then showed me other imperfections...you strengthen (replace) the "worst" links in the chain, and you then learn which links are the next-weakest.

At 5:10AM, it was a mild predicament.  The artistic anvil had not cooled fully from last night's work, and I felt ready to repair (probably) as needed.  But I would certainly miss the bus which I prefer to take, to be in the office at a certain time.  But, only a mild predicament, because I have other options (beginning with the next bus, half an hour later). So, I went ahead and rolled up my figurative sleeves.

The morning's work was curiously liberating in two ways.

First, I don't really have any "deadline" for the Scene;  I created one, in an admittedly arbitrary manner, based on the ephemeral sense of how long I felt my musical mind "needed" in the discovery of the solution.  (Considering, pace Igor Fyodorovich, each new piece to be a kind of musical 'problem' to be solved–in the present case, a brief collage of four echoes of, or variations upon, musical material already exposed in the course of the ballet.)  But in truth, and especially since there is no external demand for the finished product, the only goal is The Best Whereof I Am Capable.

Second, the various Plans B for the commute in to work are all fully acceptable from the side of the office.  I realized—a very epiphany—that I enjoyed the complete freedom to take 20 minutes, wherewith to avail myself artistically of the yet-hot irons.

The result is, that the Scene is now, I am 99.7% sure, done.

And I am free to let it cure today, and overnight, so as to rest certain.  Therefore is my heart full this morning.

When finished—and now I can use the phrase when finished without fear of hearing a snicker behind my back—White Nights will be, well, monumental in character. But as I know from my long track record of smaller-scale pieces, in art, all of the details matter. So yes, I want to make absolutely certain that I own each and every note of the piece. I want to make certain that each number, great or small, is fully invested with the artistic integrity which has always been my highest aim.

Gentle Reader, I have been puttering with this two-minute piece, each day for almost a week now, and I can report that it has been a labor of laser-like love:  to make sure that each successive echo of music heard earlier in the Grand Piece should fulfill its promise, and should be never even the shadow of a throwaway. And maybe I shall work a bit more still, a few minutes each day, to ensure my own (and only my own) complete artistic certainty, so that it may only be Saturday morning that I truly pronounce the Scene done. The result will vindicate my efforts and the time.

Additionally, I've been "reclaiming" the 2006 score of Intermezzo II, whose composition really has been complete all this while...but that is another story.

18 July 2017

To do, or not to do

“Look, Hamlet! There’s the rub.”

Here are my quarrels with the state in which I left Scene 10 last night (and I already hear the solutions):

       1. The transition into A feels just a little rushed, chaotic. The insertion of one measure will be all the space needed to make it coherent. (That said, the present m.11 is a corrective insert added to Sunday’s halfway score;  that did reduce some of the crowding, but the intersection needs just a little attention more.)

        2. At C, similar objection. All that is needed here, I think, is to give the clarinet and viola some space to sound their D alone for a “beat” before the rhythmic accompaniment begins.  mm.35-40 is a “character variation”;  the original returns mid-phrase in mm.41-44 ... a seam which I think works fine.

          3. At D, it’s close. Unlike 1. and 2., I don’t think that any more time need be added;  just a brief gesture, perhaps the hint of an anticipation in the trombones.

          4. Mm.50-62 are a literal import from Scene 1. I almost think that I want that vibe to run a little longer;  so either I decide that I’m happy with the passage as it is (and make a very slight modification of the cadence), or I may try bringing in an adaptation of another, noncontiguous Scene 1 passage.

In any case, Scene 10 will reach a happy ending early this evening.