The final assignment for the Level 1 course is about harmony; we are asked to use a cyclic chord progression in a piece for keyboard or group of instruments. I have decided to write for two instruments I haven’t used in my assignments yet – the alto and tenor saxophones, with piano accompaniment. I have composed a 16 bar chord sequence:
My idea is for a waltz, changing the chord on every bar. The dominant chord first appears at the end of the first half of the sequence, in bar 8. The ‘expected’ transition back to I is interrupted by chord III, a minor triad, which is also repeated two bars later to underline its effect. Chord VI in bar 12 is a sort of natural resting place, after which the last four bars take us back to the dominant, thus preparing for the sequence to be played again.
Of all the wind instruments I have composed for so far in this course, I particularly enjoyed the clarinet for its versatility and large range. For my final assignment I have chosen to write for the saxophone which is a similarly versatile and agile instrument, capable of large jumps, both fast and sustained passages, and a high dynamic range. The tenor sax in Bb is one of the mainstays of jazz bands with a characteristic breathy sound, and the alto sax in Eb complements it nicely with a brighter sound towards the higher end of its range. I have written about some saxophone music on my listening log, including Michael Torke’s ‘July’ and Ibert’s Concertino da Camera.
One effect often associated with the saxophone is the note bend (sliding up to or down from a note), and I might try to experiment with this in my assignment.
I have chosen the key of B major with the saxophones in mind – they both sound good in this range and the alto saxophone is able to get down to the dominant note (a bottom F#) which is important for the melodic line.
At a tempo of around 100 bpm, in this time signature to aim for a 3 minute long piece I need 6 cycles of my chord progression. However I have decided to double the duration of each chord in the penultimate cycle so will have just five in total. My rough structure is as follows:
- Introduction – 8 bars, based on the first two chords of the sequence
- Cycle 1 – 16 bars, with alto saxophone playing the main melody
- Cycle 2 – 16 bars, developing from the first and using both saxophones equally as a duet
- Cycle 3 – 16 bars, with a more wandering and chromatic style
- Cycle 4 – 32 bars, the piano now takes the focus, with the saxophones playing accompanying melodies in a drawn out version of the harmonic cycle. This section will be the main climax of the piece.
- Cycle 5 – 16 bars of 12/8. Switching from a simple triple to a complex quadruple time signature, I want the last cycle to provide the biggest contrast and indicate that the piece is coming to an end. I plan to finish with a perfect cadence, by drawing out and repeating the final few chords.