Assignment 2 – Revision and Reflection

I was pleased with my feedback for this assignment; my tutor commented that it was well planned, and that I had used imaginative motifs.  He also felt that I had applied my chosen scale to the instrument appropriately, which was good to hear as this was the first time I have written a piece for a woodwind instrument.  On his advice I have inserted a few breath marks to make the phrasing clearer.  I also decided to add some staccato markings in bars 15 and 16 to make a bigger contrast with the slurred quavers.

One aspect I had commented on in my initial reflection was my use of accidentals.  My tutor gave me some useful thoughts on this subject, but was happy that I had justified my own choice well enough and so I will leave this unchanged.

Following his feedback I have revised the score slightly to improve its presentation, for example properly lining up dynamic marks etc.  There was also one notational correction – in the main theme (e.g. bar 1) I intentionally used a tie instead of a crotchet in my original score as this note is held across the beat and I was trying to ensure the beats are clearly indicated.  However my tutor pointed out that in this time signature (5/4), the beats are divided into a group of 3 and a group of 2, and so it is not necessary to indicate all 5 crotchet beats.  It certainly looks cleaner this way so I have rectified this in the revised score.

The final changes I made were to the transitions between sections.  At the end of bar 20, I did intend there to be a short break after the pause so this has now been made explicit with a caesura in the score.  I also added a new pause and caesura in bar 26: I want the Bb trill and crescendo to leap unbroken into the next bar, and on reflection I agree with my tutor’s suggestion that the moment’s silence beforehand creates a more effective climax.  The modified track can be played below.

Assignment 2

Structure

For this short composition for solo clarinet, I followed the basic structure I had prepared in the Assignment 2 plan.  In the opening section I kept the rhythm quite simple to evoke the feeling of a rocking boat on the ocean.  The first time the motif is played the tonality is slightly ambiguous, and the second time is quieter, lower in pitch and more obviously sinister.  The third time returns to the original phrase but shifted in time so the emphasis is on a different note.

I put an accelerando in to take us to the faster [B] section as I wanted to convey the feeling of being carried away on the storm.  This then dies away with a ritenuto back to the opening theme – this time modulated up a semitone to the alternative form of the scale. Since both versions of this scale have in common the note Bb, I used this to bridge between the two sections.

Leading into the [C] section I decided to first slow down the tempo along with a big crescendo, which I thought created a more effective climax up to the fortissimo top B natural.

The piece ends with a return to the opening theme but played slightly slower and quieter as the storm slowly recedes.

Reflection

I found it an interesting experiment to compose using the scale I had chosen, I think it offered more possibilities than the standard whole tone scale I was originally planning to use.  Other than the mini projects, this was also the first time I had written anything for a woodwind instrument.  Some of the piece is quite fast, but based on what I have heard in my research I think it should be easily playable by a competent clarinettist.

In terms of score presentation, I was a little unsure what to do about the accidentals.  Since scales are generally written with one letter note per degree of the scale, I decided to use a G double sharp rather than switching between A natural and A sharp all the time.  However this didn’t work in the altered form of the scale when written with flats, so I’m not sure whether this was the best approach.  When transposed for the clarinet it ends up with a mix of sharps and flats anyway!

I enjoyed the process of transcribing this piece into Sibelius, and was very impressed by the amount of control it gives you over the instrument’s performance (accents, slurs, staccato etc).  I ended up spending quite a bit of time on these performance indications in order to get it sounding like I wanted.  I’m not sure whether this level of detail would be appropriate for a ‘real’ score, since often these subtleties are left to the performer (and as a performer myself, interpreting the music is one of the most enjoyable aspects of learning a new piece!). In which case would it be best to mark some of these ‘optional’ indications as hidden in Sibelius so they don’t appear on the printed score?

Assignment 2 plan

Scale

My first decision for assignment 2 (a short composition for a solo woodwind instrument) was what scale to use.  During my research into different scales, I came across the ‘mystic chord’ – a six note chord that Scriabin used as a basis for some of his compositions, e.g. his symphonic work ‘Prometheus: Poem of Fire’.  There is an interesting documentary and performance of this work on YouTube.  The notes of this chord closely correspond to the whole note scale, with one of the notes raised a semitone:

MysticScale
The ‘mystic’ scale

I’ve always liked the tonal ambiguity of the whole tone scale and I think this modified version has some interesting potential for a variety of contrasting musical colours, so I have decided to use it as the basis for my woodwind composition.

This scale naturally sets a mysterious, enigmatic sort of mood.  When playing around with it at the piano, I came up with a short theme which reminds me of a rocking boat on a stormy sea.

Instrument

I have decided to write for clarinet which I think is well suited to the drama of this piece because of its large range and ability to produce quite extreme dynamics (this is illustrated really well in Messiaen’s ‘Abîme des oiseaux’ which I studied during my research).

Structure

I have chosen 5/4 as the time signature, as I think the unbalanced rhythm is quite evocative of a turbulent ocean.  With a tempo of approximately 112 crotchets per minute, I will aim for around 36 bars which will give a duration of around 1 min 40 s.  I have decided to try a rondo structure, returning to the opening theme (representing the rocking boat) in between progressively louder and more dramatic storm sections.

[A] Main four bar theme plus two repeats/variations: 12 bars

[B] Storm starts brewing, building up the tension: 8 bars

[A] Recap of theme (modulated): 4 bars

[C] Storm reaches its peak, melodic climax: 8 bars

[A] Another recap of theme to close: 4 bars