27 September 2019

Notes for King's Chapel

Marginalia is a one-page quasi-canonic chorale I composed one afternoon while visiting an old Wooster classmate in Bethesda, MD. Tangentially, in our Wooster days, my friend played banjo and led a bluegrass band which he christened Just North of Nowhere.

In 2015 I composed a set of five pieces for clarinet duet, These Unlikely Events.  They did not necessarily grow more unlikely as I composed them.  The recent arrangements for four or five instruments would probably not have struck me as very likely, at the time I originally composed the duets.

At King’s Chapel late in October of 2015 we premièred From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud, a monodrama sung beautifully by Barbara Hill Meyers, the setting of a text by Columbus, Ohio writer Leo Schulte, a text which one member of the ensemble characterized as “disturbing and intense.” The piece was such a signal success, it is fair to say I wanted to follow it up in yet grander style.  Why a scene from “The Scottish Play”? It is the horrific story of a man who discards his sense of honor, and indeed who shreds his conscience, in the pursuit of his ambition, and the story of the lives laid waste as a consequence, most tragically, his own wife. Truly, Shakespeare’s work is immortal.

Since, in the playwright’s day, all the parts were played by male actors, I had the idea of inverting that, by casting both roles for female voices.

28 August 2019

Chuffing Along

I’m going to call you “Fred,” because no one in the world is named “Omar Sharif.”
— Peter O’Toole, on the set of Lawrence of Arabia

I think I found a solution to our pizzicato conundrum in the Op. 150, so I’ll send to Ellen, to see if she agrees that the solution is as happily easy as it seems to me.

Recent Listening:

Martinů; Field Mass, Double Concerto for piano, timpani & two string orchestras, string quartets
Koechlin; piano quintet, string quartets
Mompou; Música Callada (Herbert Henck)
“Papa”; Op. 50 (Nomos Quartet)
LvB; Opp. 74 & 95 (Vermeer Quartet)
Berlioz; Méditation religieuse (cond. Colin Davis)
Berlioz; L’enfance du Christ (cond. Herreweghe)

27 August 2019

In the meanwhile

As I have noted ere now, the title Feel the Burn (Bicycling Into the Sun) which now belongs to the third piece I have composed for Ensemble Aubade, was originally pinned to a piece for the Opus 114.

The story of the Opus 114 is more or less this:

In 2013, I composed the clarinet/marimba duet, just what everyone was expecting for Dr Tim Phillips in Troy, Alabama, who was collaborating with a percussionist at the time, and I designated this duet Opus 114 № 1. A possibility for which (I admit) I was prepared:  my piece failed to win the affection of the percussionist, so the piece remained unperformed until Olivia Kieffer & I gave the première in Atlanta on 11 Nov 2014.

Earlier in 2014, I composed an easy-going flute/clarinet duet for Peter Bloom & myself, Zen on the Wing.  Quite possibly at that time, I formed the idea of the Opus 114 comprising a set of four pieces, and Zen on the Wing became Opus 114 № 2.

A set of four pieces: three duets, and a trio for all three instrumentalists (clarinet, flute, mallet percussion.

It was the fl/prc duet which was the original Feel the Burn.

Having finished (or, very nearly finished—I need to refine the pizzicato quadruple-stop tomorrow) I want a small-scale project to chop out as a respite before getting back to the ballet: so, why not the flute/vibraphone duet for the Opus 114?

I have been chipping away at it for a couple of days, and the title is Snootful of Hooch.

20 August 2019

About my Marginalia

Now that A Heart So White is completed, and (what was, in many ways, far the harder task) we have a rehearsal schedule agreed upon, I have taken thought for some more music for The King's Chapel program. On one hand, I want to leave ample room for my colleague Pamela Marshall to have as much time as she may wish, on the other I don't want her to feel under any strain to compose in short order.

Yesterday I arranged the Marginalia for C flute, alto flute, violin and horn.

There is an anecdote, quite possibly apocryphal about a conductor, (English, I think) who was rehearsing an orchestra which was having difficulty with Schoenberg's tone-poem Pelleas und Melisande. In an effort to help the orchestra get a handle on the piece, he reportedly exhorted them to think of the music as "Brahms with wrong notes."

On roughly those lines, we might possibly regard my Marginalia, which is simply something of a quasi-canonic chorale, as "Ockeghem with wrong notes." It is the middle piece (a light interlude) in the suite It's all in your head, not that that's a bad place for everything to be, a suite which has yet to see a performance.

11 August 2019

In a Jazz-esque Way

As I have noted ere now, Gentle Reader, when Peter Bloom returned to Boston from Ensemble Aubade's tour of the southeast, with exceedingly gratifying reports of the warm reception and overall success enjoyed by Oxygen Footprint, I found myself highly motivated to compose a companion piece.

The story of that piece's composition is in two overlapping parts.

Firstly, I had a musical idea I was turning over in my mind, for another, entirely different trio, of two flutes playing repeated notes at the interval of a third.

While I allowed that other trio to wander off in its own, and a new direction, I took that idea of the thirds, and decided that it would be the germ of a viola ostinato. Possibly because it was winter yet, and despite the fact that I do not ski, myself, the mental image I formed of this musical figure, was the track of a pair of skis.  And since my viola music had a kind of precision, and it seemed to be ticking the time (but mostly because the sound of the phrase appealed to me) I decided that the name of the piece would be Swiss Skis.

On these lines (as it were) I thought of the material for the flute as the skier him or herself, gliding easily along the pristine snow; and that the harp/piano is the at times irregular landscape which our imaginary skier negotiates with an airy grace.

Secondly, as to the relationship of the three parts, the musical texture:

At the time that I set to serious work on the piece, I was listening, in (as they say) heavy rotation, to a famous jazz track, and I thought I would freely adapt the texture to my own material.

Thus, the persistent viola ostinato is the rhythmic engine, and while the harp/piano is, broadly speaking, "the bass," I felt that if I wrote the part as rhythmically "straightforward" as the exemplar, I should only give the performer occasion to hurl curses upon my name; and the flute is the soloist lithely bopping and crooning in response to the musical foundation.

Whether the result is actual jazz, or (like, say Stravinsky's Ragtime) chamber music reflecting an affectionate regard for jazz, is perhaps a question whose answer might entail the splitting of some hairs in the discovery.

07 August 2019

Opus 150 Outro

On Thursday, 1 August I finished the setting of the text. I continued with some minor tweaks upon the instrumental lines as I was preparing the vocal score, which I sent to all the ensemble on Saturday the 4th, with the note to the singers that:
One challenge not reflected in the score (though not insurmountable, I trust) is that the fixed media, which occupies something of its own sonic plane in the piece, may at times present something of a distraction (which in context, echoes the turmoil in Macbeth's soul, I think.) I believe that full rehearsals will be the key to getting you accustomed.  You will draw steadier and more reliable pitch info from the live quartet.

Later on Saturday, I sent parts out to the instrumentalists.

The play, of course, is the tragedy of a man who sets aside his honor, and indeed sheds his conscience, in order to further his ambition, strewing death all about him in the process.

It cannot be denied that Shakespeare speaks to every age.

28 July 2019

Still it cried Sleep no more to all the house

I've been making incremental progress on the addition/completion of the instruments' lines, and am now at m.111, which is better than half-way through. If I have those lines done for 3 August, I shall be pleased.

We are collectively questing anew for a second concert date.

And, my latest CD review is up at earrelevant.net.

25 July 2019

Still taxiing on the tarmac

Gentle Reader, as I noted this past Tuesday, I reached the end of the text. In the time since, I have chipped away at three predictable tasks:  Refining local text-rhythm here and there, and adding some more material for the instruments.

A bit more fundamentally, having taken the first steps to harmonize the vocal score and the fixed media, I have tinkered a bit with the latter.  While I have done with that tinkering for the present, it may need some further (hopefully not radical)adjustment as the scoring nears completion.

I have now reached a point where hard copy for proofing and additional scribbling will be just the thing, and which should be available to me Monday.

Progress on the Op.150 being thus temporarily suspended for a few days, Let me occupy my composition desk the while with the Op.75. Night the Fourth will be cloven in twain:

Scene 12a: No Word From the Lodger—Nastenka is desolate.
Scene 12b: The Dreamer Declares His Love—He and Nastenka Are Giddy—Comes the Lodger.

On one hand, it seems natural that I should, for Scene 12a recapitulate the material from Scene 3a, Nastenka at the Bridge. On 'tother, I already recapitulated it in Scene 10.  So let me consider.

23 July 2019

A little water clears us of this deed

Reached a notable milestone for the Opus 150 yesterday, as all of the text is now cast onto the voice lines. As the score stands now (incomplete trunk that it is), the voices carry us to the nine-minute mark.  This is perfect . . . the fixed media times at 11:21, so there is room to open up some seams for instrumental commentary.

This afternoon, I shall content myself with identifying those seams, and perhaps even start to populate the commentary.

So, progress is guid.

17 July 2019

I laid their daggers ready

Viz. A Heart So White . . . the first consideration is that the fixed media be of a duration suitable to the declamation of the scene, so we might say that I have already been working backwards, in having created the fixed media first. At some point (last year, I think) I timed myself in a reading of the scene (for fun, I should time the scene in the Orson Welles film) and in all this interval since, I have had the idea that 10-11 minutes is about right for the fixed media . . . and there is space both to allow the text its space and breath, and to allow the occasional "instrumental interlude"

Since the nature of the fixed media is such that the voices will not receive much pitch info pertinent to their lines therefrom, it seems to me that the live instruments will shoulder the supporting role of serving as pitch-reference, and I return to the necessity of creating the voice lines.
Prior to today's work, I have two PDFs, dated 15 Jan 2018 and 26 Mar 2019.

So, what I shall do is, just write— get some form of vocal setting onto the desk, and clean up later. I want to have the piece done so that I can get the music to all the participants by mid-August, so that they have a good sense of what kind of rehearsal regime we need in September.

I did make fair progress today, and maybe I'll chip away at
it some more after a bite of supper.

16 July 2019

Angling Towards Work on the Op 150

Bearing in mind the distinction between hardly any work and no work, I did hardly any actual work on A Heart So White today.

Most of my work today was in the way of housekeeping/file management: I packed away the Opus 163 folder; I confirmed that I had final wav files of the two several versions of the fixed media for Mistaken for the Sacred; and then packed away the Opus 141 folder; brought the Opus 150 folder out to the work desk;  created final wav and mp3 files of The Unquiet Castle, essentially as preparation for clearing away (later) the Audacity project and related files (only when the piece will have been finished.)

And, away from the computer, I found my hard copy of the text, and even MS. paper, for pencil scribbling.

All being now in a state of calm readiness, work shall be waded into, tomorrow.
Watch This Space.

15 July 2019

Op. 163a and beyond

This morning, I prepared the piano version (that is: fl/va/pf) of Bicycling Into the Sun (Feel the Burn).

Tomorrow (if I wait until tomorrow), shall I set to serious work on A Heart So White. The fixed media has been ready some little while, now.

14 July 2019

Trio Done

Gentle Reader, although I myself suggested here, that the sand dance which I wrote for that call long since, is a "bagatelle," that noun does the music an injustice. In fact, it has a wonderful intensity and gravity, so that (we might say) the music has waited for its proper environment, so that its new role as the Arrival Point of  Bicycling Into the Sun (Feel the Burn) is something of an artistic consummation.
Only yesterday, I posted that the trio should be done in a week, so, yes, I am a little surprised (and greatly pleased) that I muscled through, and wrapped it up today.

To recapitulate, I have written three pieces for Ensemble Aubade (fl/va/hp):

Oxygen Footprint, Op.138
Swiss Skis, Op.161
Bicycling Into the Sun, Op.163

I shall soon attend to the alternate version of the Op.163 (with piano)

13 July 2019

The Day's Work

I have brought Bicycling Into the Sun (Feel the Burn) to almost the two-minute mark, so I think the piece should be finished in a week, just by chipping away at it day by day.

And I have added the few slight percussion gestures to Scene 11 of White Nights, and I am now content that the Scene is done.

Now that I know exactly where I am with White Nights, my immediate plan is:

1. Finish Bicycling Into the Sun (Feel the Burn).
2. Finish A Heart So White, so that I can get the music to all the participants by the beginning of August.
And then:

3. Wrap up White Nights.

12 July 2019

To Take Stock Before the Home Stretch

Gentle Reader, as noted here, I have come to think of this recovery period in light of an opportunity to concentrate on finishing White Nights.

So, just where am I?

I reconstruct the grand outline thus:

White Nights Outline Rebuilt 12 July 2019

Overture Op75/1 10'30 10'30

Night the First, Scene 1 Op75/2 12'45 23'15
Night the First, Scene 2 Op75/3 06'00 29'15
Night the First, Scene 3a Op75/4 06'00 35'15
Night the First, Scene 3b Op75/5 08'00 43'15

Intermezzo I Op75/6 06'00 49'15

Night the Second, Scene 4 Op75/7 02'30 51'45
Night the Second, Scene 5 Op75/8 13'00 1h4'45
Night the Second, Scene 6 Op75/9 1'30 1h6'15
Night the Second, Scene 7 Op75/10 10'00 1h16'15
Night the Second, Scene 8 Op75/11 09'00 1h25'15
Night the Second, Scene 9 Op75/12 07'30 1h32'45
Night the Second, Scene 10 Op75/13 03'00 1h35'45

Intermezzo II Op75/14 06'15 1h42'00

Night the Third, Scene 11 Op75/15 06'15 1h48'15

Intermezzo III Op75/16 06'00 1h54'15

Night the Fourth, Scene 12a Op75/17 03'00 1h57'15
Night the Fourth, Scene 12b Op75/18 04'00 2h01'15

Intermezzo IV Op75/19 02'15 2h03'30

Morning, Scene 13 Op75/20 06'00 2h09'30

As noted here, Intermezzo III is complete.

Here, I talk about work on Scene 11, but I do not seem to note completing the Scene here on the blog: or did I, and I just haven't found that post.  I have just opened the Sibelius file for Scene 11, and I think it may indeed be done, perhaps I was waiting to export a sound file before making formal note on the blog. I shall take another day or so to reflect.

What have I changed, tonight from the outline as I had updated it in July of last year?
I have a specific idea for Intermezzo IV, and I trimmed its duration accordingly.
Also, I have decided that Scene 13 should be somewhat shorter than originally budgeted.  In general, I am feeling that much of the earlier part of the ballet has been sufficiently long-breathed, and that I want the final sequence not to dawdle.