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Topic: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

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  1. #1

    Symphony 1, mvt i, (updated w/score)

    The latest score: http://www.suspenlute.com/stuff/ploran-1-i-proof-1.pdf
    The latest recording: http://www.suspenlute.com/stuff/ploran-1-i-proof-1.mp3

    Original Post:

    A while back I decided I wasn't good enough at music to continue working with it. The thoroughly miserable year that followed made me realize that (cliched as it sounds) my music may not be much, but it's literally almost all I have so I might as well see it through to the end.

    So, with that out of the way... I'm currently working on a neoclassical symphony using themes from Japanese folk songs. I'm a miniaturist by nature (as are, oddly enough, many Japanese traditional artists) so don't expect anything huge and sprawling. Just enough to entertain an audience for 15-20 minutes or so.

    This first movement is in something like traditional sonata form except for using rough approximations of the Japanese "In" and "Do" scales (instead of minor and major keys) and the absence of modulatory bridge passages (which often confuse me - a "transitional passage" from minor to relative major seems about as necessary as a "transitional fruit" between peaches and nectarines). The A and B themes are both derived from traditional Japanese melodies, though by now so thoroughly transformed that I'm worried actually identifying them would confuse rather than clarify. I'll provide links if anyone is curious.

    Cheers
    There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Therefore there must be a God. You either get this one or you don't - Kreeft & Tacelli
    The will to achieve is not sufficient. Some things should not be achieved. - Rimsky-Korsakov
    Musicians are just these guys that want to make music. Okay, they want to have a wonderful lifestyle, but the majority just want to make really great music. - Jon Anderson


  2. #2

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    I'm impressed with this piece. It has all the markings of a Sonata form. It also has the style of a Romantic Era piece. You have done well with the use of the GPO instruments and the stereo placement. I look forward to hearing all the movements to this piece. Thank you for sharing.
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  3. #3

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    Quote Originally Posted by suspenlute View Post
    A while back I decided I wasn't good enough at music to continue working with it. The thoroughly miserable year that followed made me realize that (cliched as it sounds) my music may not be much, but it's literally almost all I have so I might as well see it through to the end.

    I am trying to understand the above-quoted comment.

    Have you any formal training in composition?

    After listening to this movement, I can assure you that you have an IMMENSE musical talent. There is cohesion and logic to the music.

    Sure, it's rather tonal (which isn't in and of itself a bad thing), not quite "up-to-date", but who cares!

    The form is a tiny bit too "square". I'd have preferred far more variation between each iteration of a section. The type of variation I mean isn't just a question of giving a main theme to another instrument, but actually altering the musical structure. Generally speaking, good music loathes literal repetition.

    Stylistically, I liked your use of the Asian modes (I did the same thing with one of my pieces). I didn't think the over-all style of your first theme, however, was Japanese. There was something subtly Chinese about it. The second theme, on the other hand, DID have a wonderful Japanese flavour to it.

    If you wrote this without formal training in composition, then I can tell you that I am suitably impressed.

    Quick note: the size you specify for the orchestra is far from "modest". You would need to cut out some brass for the orchestra to start looking modest As it stands, this is a full-fledged symphony orchestra. The minute you start using more than two of any woodwind, and have a full four horns, trombones AND a tuba, you're getting into "large orchestra" territory.

    If you can swing it, I'd suggest you pare the orchestra down a bit.
    Arrange so your bass clarinet is played by 2nd desk.
    Reduce to 2 horns.
    2 trumpets is fine.
    2 trombones is fine, but COULD be cut.
    Lose the tuba. You need a good sized orchestra to balance it with a tuba.

    OR, if you want, go hog wild.
    Re-orchestrate in a slightly more standard fashion (to hell with modesty!):
    keep 4 horns,
    add 1 trumpet
    add 1 trombone
    keep the tuba

    This would place it in absolutely standard (except for that extra clarinetist, which I'd still cut and give to the 2nd desk) orchestra size.
    Needless to point out: symphonies are HARD to get played.
    Thank G(ary)od for GPO.

  4. #4

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    Hi, Suspenlute - It's great to hear some music from you!

    This is so bold and energetic - beyond what I expected when you said it wasn't "huge and sprawling"-- Has a nice big, dramatic flare to it, I think - and I loved that about it.

    The piece's sensibility is traditional, no great musical surprises - a few things that are a bit cliched, perhaps difficult to avoid when using Japanese folk music as a basis.

    Michel's given you excellent feedback - He's already said the two things I first hand in mind to say - That more development of the themes, and less literal re-statement would be helpful. AND - that your orchestra is indeed FAR from "modest," as Michel pointed out. Big orchestra there, and would probably be thinned out in many live situations.

    But I really enjoyed listening - there's an honest, directness about it which is appealing, for sure.

    Congrats!

    Randy

  5. #5

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    I like the themes alot but as others have said it's too repetitive. I think a little more variation in the exposition might help you discover more possibilities in the development section and other possibilities of tonal areas you might cover. Play around with those themes over and over and see what aspects you can exploit. Maybe more decoration, maybe less decoration, maybe a different rhythm or maybe shift the rhythm or compress the rhythm or expand the rhythm or mirror the theme's intervals, or.......you get the idea.

    I think this piece is well orchestrated, well constructed and it feels like we're going somewhere. From what I can tell the instruments are playing idiomatically but I can't comment without seeing a score.

    Anyway very nice job. You certainly shouldn't feel like you're "not good enough at music" because you clearly are as demonstrated by this piece. It's very good.

    It would be interesting to know if you've had any formal music training AND what styles of music and composers you've been exposed to. What composers do you like and who would you say influences your writing?

    So definitely keep writing!
    Steve Winkler GPO4 JAAB3 Finale 2012 Reaper Windows 7 Pro 64-bit VSL SE+

  6. #6

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    Fair enough to everyone who commented on the orchestration. I guess the personnel is "modest" by standards like those of Ives (seven trumpets) RK (three of every woodwind) and Mahler (a thousand of... everybody) but not well-suited to most modern situations. As it stands now, the trombones and tuba could be left completely ad lib (neither does anything really important) and I *might* try having the second clarinetist double on bass clarinet, but orchestrating out those four horns is going to be a headache. i'll have another look tonight (typing this up at work right now, I'll write some more personal replies then too)

    Thanks for the feedback so far.
    There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Therefore there must be a God. You either get this one or you don't - Kreeft & Tacelli
    The will to achieve is not sufficient. Some things should not be achieved. - Rimsky-Korsakov
    Musicians are just these guys that want to make music. Okay, they want to have a wonderful lifestyle, but the majority just want to make really great music. - Jon Anderson


  7. #7

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    Okay the URL in the original post has been updated with my latest iteration

    Changes so far::

    Most of the "immodest" instruments in the score were added solely because I have a habit of reinforcing the lower register, which has more to do with my own hearing loss than actual necessity (i.e. I always FEEL like the bass-line needs reinforcing but nobody else agrees - conventional wisdom says that the cellos, basses, and bassoons can do that just fine). So - tuba and trombones have been removed completely. I also looked at the bass clarinet and there were only about eight measures where it did anything really essential (and only two where I really wanted that timbre) so I've removed that part as well, transferring its duties to the two bassoons instead. The recording has been updated accordingly and honestly even though I find the texture somewhat thinned out, it's not nearly as weak as I thought it would be - so thanks again qccowboy for suggesting this.

    I'm still stuck on how (or whether) to reduce the number of horns. qccowboy I noticed you've said "2 trombones is fine, but COULD be cut." In a pinch, would it be more realistic to replace the four horns with two horns plus two trombones playing the original trombone part and also taking over what used to be the lower horn parts (when they actually exist)? I'm trying to keep my hopes of ever having this piece performed realistic (i.e. I'm trying not to have any hopes at all) but I still want it to be a practical option.

    As for the rest...

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    Have you any formal training in composition?

    After listening to this movement, I can assure you that you have an IMMENSE musical talent. There is cohesion and logic to the music.

    If you wrote this without formal training in composition, then I can tell you that I am suitably impressed.
    Wow, thanks!

    But bear in mind I'm almost 32 years old. For someone reason everyone who hears my music thinks they're listening to a talented kid rather than a mediocre adult.

    I started writing music (like actually writing songs, putting the notes down on paper and playing them the same way every time) when I was 9 or 10 years old. After graduating high school and entering college, I *tried* entering their music program and managed to get through three or four 100- and 200- level music classes during which I learned exactly one dubious lesson (parallel fifths are bad - which isn't even TRUE half of the time) and composed exactly one horrible piece of music (an 18-bar minuet with far too many notes filled in by a sympathetic professor who could tell how clueless I was). After that I gave up completely and went back to teaching myself. Everything else that I know about composition and orchestration I've learned through listening/playing the music of others and reading scores. (And, of course, trial and error with GPO, which has performed the amazing function of basically providing every aspiring Haydn with a superhuman Esterhazy orchestra). I'm also balancing working on my music with my family and my job as a teacher (another clue to my musical ethos: with rare exceptions I won't consider one of my own compositions a success unless it entertains little kids).

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    Sure, it's rather tonal (which isn't in and of itself a bad thing), not quite "up-to-date", but who cares!

    The form is a tiny bit too "square". I'd have preferred far more variation between each iteration of a section. The type of variation I mean isn't just a question of giving a main theme to another instrument, but actually altering the musical structure. Generally speaking, good music loathes literal repetition.
    I'm not sure I completely agree with you. I know it puts me in a minority among modern listeners, but I happen to like clearly demarcated sonata expositions with near-literal repeats (and I also prefer stable tonality to atonality or instability, hence the "old fashioned" sound). And there are plenty of examples of truly good music (Beethoven and Mozart symphonies, Haydn sonatas, etc) that don't suffer for being repeated. (I even have a few "modern" Beethoven and Mozart recordings into which I've spliced the exposition repeats because I liked the sound of the orchestra but wanted to hear the music the way the composer wrote it).

    But you do raise an important point (along with swinkler) that the themes could stand to be developed more, and I agree the development section could be longer and more intricate - maybe becoming more of a counterbalance to the literal-ness of the exposition. I don't know if I'll wind up going back and lengthening it quite yet. One interesting thing about this piece that I forgot to mention is that I'm working on it strictly in chronological order (not adding any note until I'm quite certain about the note that precedes it) so it's entirely possible that the progress of the symphony itself will reflect my progress as a composer at this stage - and perhaps the finale itself will be suffused with talent and artistry that presently seem barely imaginable! We can only hope...

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    Stylistically, I liked your use of the Asian modes (I did the same thing with one of my pieces). I didn't think the over-all style of your first theme, however, was Japanese. There was something subtly Chinese about it. The second theme, on the other hand, DID have a wonderful Japanese flavour to it.
    Well you probably know the musical styles of both of those countries are very closely related (and it's even been speculated that Chinese musical traditions have been better-preserved in Japan than in China). As for my A-theme, the original song has an untranslatable name that sounds Chinese ("Shashari") and there's also that one ridiculous bit in parallel fourths that I couldn't resist jamming right in the middle, which probably sounds stereotypically Chinese to most western listeners. Overall I'm not necessarily trying to create a "Japanese flavour" (except for maybe a handful of coloristic passages here and there) so much as using the melodies of Japanese traditional song as a germinating source.
    There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Therefore there must be a God. You either get this one or you don't - Kreeft & Tacelli
    The will to achieve is not sufficient. Some things should not be achieved. - Rimsky-Korsakov
    Musicians are just these guys that want to make music. Okay, they want to have a wonderful lifestyle, but the majority just want to make really great music. - Jon Anderson


  8. #8

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    To comment on the idea about repetition:

    If you examine later Beethoven, you will see that there is almost never any literal repetition of material. Beethoven himself said (I paraphrase, I don't have the quote on hand): "if your copyist could have written it, then it was not worth writing". Meaning, that you aren't "composing" when you are simply copy/pasting. Even Beethoven was aware of the weakness inherent in the copy/paste approach.

    There is much contemporary music that is not dissonant in any way. Most of your symphony movement, as a matter of fact, is quite clearly "20th century" influenced. There are spots here and there that rely on some classical-era clichés (a few harmonic passages, resolutions, etc...), and I honestly believe your work would be far improved if you were to overcome those particular "weaknesses".

    I would like to see the score, as that would make it easier to comment in detail. Particularly in regard to the orchestration.

    For the horns/trombones thing...

    A good size for an orchestra, one that will open more doors to you, would be a "classical" sized orchestra. This would mean no more than 2 trumpets and 2 horns. The trombones MIGHT be a problem, but some good community/semi-professional groups do have trombones. It only becomes harder to balance trombones against so few horns.

    I wrote a piece for a rather small orchestra (woodwinds by two, two horns, piano, timpani, strings) with three trombone soloists. It balanced well, but this was a very particular case: the trombones were treated as soloists, and had sparse lines, lots of counterpoint, lots of melodic material, and LOTS of solo sections (ie: the 3 trombones as a concertante group).

    In the end, the conductor commissioned a second version of the piece, this time, adding two trumpets (and incidentally changing the piano part to a harp part). While the original version worked (it was written for a fairly decent community orchestra), the new version (premiering next September in Seattle) is more balanced.

    Since your formal training may not have included much instrumentation/orchestration, a word of warning: don't rely entirely on "how it sounds in GPO". You may have to "imagine" some of the sound and what it SHOULD sound like live.

    For example, as loud as bassoons may seem on your computer, in real life, they just aren't that strong. The same goes for flutes... unless they are in a good strong register, flutes are VERY easy to drown out.

    I don't know about using trombones to replace two of the four horns. This would imply that you are simply transferring the horn parts to trombones, which also means the trombones would be always playing at the same time as the horns. That isn't necessarily the best "blend" of timbres.

    Trombones and trumpets will blend more uniformly. Horns will inevitably sound "weak" compared to their stronger brethren.

    So, I'm rambling and all over the place with this post LOL

    But a good classical orchestra:

    2222 / 22(2)0 / (perc), timp. / (harp) / strings

    (underlined means can use an auxiliary instrument - ie: piccolo, english horn, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, etc...)
    (parentheses means the instrument is optional)

    Remember that a string section must be balanced against the rest of the orchestra as well. If you will only have 3-4 first violins, then you will never get a good balance of sound against a full brass section (11 players - 4331). Even 6 firsts will have trouble against a full brass section. It's not for nothing that most professional symphonies have 16 firsts, 15 seconds, a dozen violas, 9-10 celli, and 7-9 contrabasses.

    Anecdote: I was at a Montreal Symphony concert, the Sibelius violin concerto, a guest conductor. In the finale, the conductor decided he would loose the reins on the trombone section and let them "blast away".... now, the MSO is among the very finest orchestras in the world (or was at that time, under Charles Dutoit), and the three trombones COMPLETELY obliterated the rest of the orchestra. You couldn't hear the strings at all, despite their all being in perfect projection ranges. The woodwinds were all miming their parts. ALL that could be heard was the trombones.


    However, most semi-professional and community groups will not have access to that many strings. (remember also that a larger proportion of any community group's string players will lack the conviction of a pro, and will not play with as full a tone).

    The smaller brass section I recommend allows you to use as few as four first violins.

  9. #9

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    Quote Originally Posted by suspenlute View Post
    Well you probably know the musical styles of both of those countries are very closely related (and it's even been speculated that Chinese musical traditions have been better-preserved in Japan than in China). As for my A-theme, the original song has an untranslatable name that sounds Chinese ("Shashari") and there's also that one ridiculous bit in parallel fourths that I couldn't resist jamming right in the middle, which probably sounds stereotypically Chinese to most western listeners. Overall I'm not necessarily trying to create a "Japanese flavour" (except for maybe a handful of coloristic passages here and there) so much as using the melodies of Japanese traditional song as a germinating source.
    I'm actually very intimately conversant in Nipponese music.
    ("Shashari" doesn't sound all that Chinese to my ear )

    The parallel 4ths section IS a stereotype of Chinese music, but it is also present in a lot of Chinese music. So it's not an undeserved stereotype. However, it isn't part of Japanese musical culture.

    All that aside, you DO have to be a bit careful if you use a sudden shift in harmonic colour or language such as that sudden use of parallel 4ths. It can come across as parody, or as unintentional humour.

    In this movement, specifically, I found the most interesting musical ideas to be those that specifically used an extended tonal palette. The parts that were less "classical" (the era, not as in jazz, pop, dance, disco... classical) were in my opinion, the most interesting ones. Where the music lost a tiny bit of interest is when the "clichés" I mentioned earlier showed up.

  10. #10

    Re: Symphony 1, mvt i, looking for input

    qccowboy I really hope this discussion is as fascinating for others as it is for myself.

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    Since your formal training may not have included much instrumentation/orchestration, a word of warning: don't rely entirely on "how it sounds in GPO". You may have to "imagine" some of the sound and what it SHOULD sound like live.


    For example, as loud as bassoons may seem on your computer, in real life, they just aren't that strong. The same goes for flutes... unless they are in a good strong register, flutes are VERY easy to drown out.

    No worries, I'm aware there are plenty of instruments in GPO that are louder than life (the harp in particular is ridiculously loud at its default settings, far out of proportion with the rest of the orchestra). That's where studying full scores of great orchestrators comes in handy. IMSLP is one of my best friends right now. I generally have a good idea of what instruments I want playing the melody and which ones on the harmony, and in what registers, but very often I'll check my "work" against pieces in which Rimsky-Korsakov / Beethoven / Mahler / etc. have used similar combinations for a better idea of how an established composer would blend the same sounds.


    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    I don't know about using trombones to replace two of the four horns. This would imply that you are simply transferring the horn parts to trombones, which also means the trombones would be always playing at the same time as the horns. That isn't necessarily the best "blend" of timbres.

    I stated it a little ambiguously. The horns don't always have four real parts. Most of the time there are only one or two horns playing, or four horns progressing in two parts. Sections like that would remain unchanged. Under the scheme I proposed, trombones would play their original part (consisting mostly of accents anyway) and also pick up third or fourth notes here and there previously assigned to a third or fourth horn. Most of these sections are fairly loud and I had assumed horns and trombones would blend slightly better at louder volume than a softer one (but your "anecdote" makes me wonder if I've been wrong about this).

    ^ Disregard all that, it's now rearranged for 2 horns / 2 trombones using a combination of pretty much everything.
    There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Therefore there must be a God. You either get this one or you don't - Kreeft & Tacelli
    The will to achieve is not sufficient. Some things should not be achieved. - Rimsky-Korsakov
    Musicians are just these guys that want to make music. Okay, they want to have a wonderful lifestyle, but the majority just want to make really great music. - Jon Anderson


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