Assignment 3 – Revision and Reflection

I was very happy with my tutor’s feedback on assignment 3; this was the first exercise in polyphony and his comments indicated that the time I spent planning the structure and how the instruments would interact with each other really helped to make it a cohesive piece of music.  It was also good to see that he agreed with my own reflection on the importance of detailed and consistent articulation and phrasing, and that I had been successful in this aim.  One point that was suggested to work on is the layout of the score (for example reducing the staff size), and so in my assignment revision I will concentrate on improving this.

Assignment 3

Structure

This piece roughly follows my plan of an ABA structure, with a few modifications.  I decided to introduce a change in time signature to 6/8 half way through section B; I think this change from quadruple to duple meter has the effect of carrying it forward towards the climax.  I then inserted an extra bar at the end of section B as a transition point back to 12/8.  I also shortened the final section to six bars which I think works better than a full repeat of the beginning and keeps the overall time down to just over two minutes.

Reflection

This assignment was an exercise in polyphony and I really enjoyed the process of weaving together the different parts.  My aim was for all three parts to sound melodic by themselves as well as to work well together.  Each instrument takes a turn at having the focus – I did this quite explicitly in the first half of section B for example, where the main melody moves between the parts while the other instruments play an accompanying texture at a softer dynamic.

I learnt quite a lot through the development of this piece.  One thing I noticed is that the middle line (in pitch) is not as easy for the listener to distinguish as the top and bottom lines, and so is often better suited as an accompaniment.  I also found myself having to make some small adjustments to the melodies where I found that one line was ‘colliding’ with another line (e.g. the oboe moving down to the same note that the clarinet was just playing), which makes it hard to identify where the melodies are going.  This wasn’t so obvious when I was playing them on the piano, possibly because of the instrument sound but also possibly because you’re more aware of the melodies when you are playing them yourself.

On the performance side I noticed the importance of having consistent phrasing and articulation between the parts.  If a melody is passed around the instruments for example, it is much more effective if it is performed in the same way.  Similarly when two parts are playing together, e.g. in the first half of section B.

Assignment 3 Plan

The brief for assignment 3 is to compose a short piece (around 2 minutes) for three woodwind instruments in a mostly polyphonic style.

Instruments

I decided to write for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, my instrument choice being influenced by some of the pieces I listened to as part of my research.  I thought the Ferroud woodwind trio used this combination very effectively – the bassoon provides a nice bass line but can also play at a pitch closer to the oboe and clarinet to allow the parts to come close together.  The timbres of the instruments also work well together.  The bassoon and oboe have conical bores and similar sounding timbres (producing both odd and even harmonics), whereas the clarinet has a cylindrical bore which produces mostly odd harmonics, giving it a contrasting timbre.  There is some interesting information about this topic on the University of New South Wales website which I would like to follow up on in more detail in the future: Open vs Closed Pipes.

Structure

The idea I had for this piece has a 12/8 time signature and is played at a walking pace of around 60 beats per minute.  This works out to approximately 30 bars of music.  My chosen triads are based around B minor and E minor:

triads

I think my opening idea will work well as a line for the bassoon which I can then add oboe and clarinet parts to over the top.  The basic structure will be ABA:

  • A:
    • 2 bars introduction (bassoon line alone)
    • 8 bars development of this theme, including transition to next triad
  • B:
    • 12 bars based around triad 2
  • A:
    • 8 bars return to the original theme, ending with triad 3