Assignment 4 – Revision and Reflection

This is the last of my assignments to revise for formal assessment – I waited until the end of the course for this one as I decided to post it on the OCA forum as an exercise in asking for feedback from my peers.  NB: my log entry containing an analysis of this piece and the original Soundcloud track can be found here.

I received one response from the forum:

I really liked listening to your piece!  Flute and vibraphone is a good combination.  Lots of nice counterpoint here and I particularly  enjoyed the  changes in tempo.  I am not a flute player, but my flute-playing tutor has drummed it in to me to be sure to allow sufficient space to draw breath between phrases.  Bars 31 – 43 look particularly challenging in this regard.  This section has a nice flamenco feel to it.   My only other thought is whether  a change of key for one or more variations might be good way to introduce even more variety? 

I definitely appreciated having my attention drawn to breath considerations; I decided that the performer would benefit from some breath mark indications in the long phrases of the middle section and so have now added these in.  The suggestion to modulate to a different key was also an interesting one, and definitely one I would consider if I was to develop it into a longer piece.

From my tutor’s report I was glad to see that he thought I had been successful in achieving the aims of this assignment and created a musically pleasing piece.  One suggestion he had was to consider augmenting the score to make use of some different vibraphone techniques or ornamentation.  I was aware of the versatile capabilities of the vibraphone from my research but had initially stayed away from anything very advanced in order to let the music be focused on the intensity of the counterpoint itself.  However on reflection I do agree with my tutor that there is room in the piece to explore at least a few of the vibraphone’s techniques, and so have experimented with this just a little by adding the following enhancements:

  • Additional octave passages to create a fuller sound at certain points, such as bar 49 and 67
  • A sudden roll in bar 46 as a more effective ‘announcement’ of the last section
  • A glissando in bar 38

The final result can be played below:

On the technical presentation front, my tutor drew my attention to the rhythmic notation of the main theme.  By using the dotted crotchet originally I was trying to create a clean score with minimal use of ties, but I can see that it is more important to indicate the 4 crotchet beats in each bar and so have revised it as per his suggestion.

Finally, I also decided to make a change to the vibraphone part in bar 40 as I wasn’t happy with the pedalling: I didn’t like the gap in the bass notes but pedalling the whole bar was too  muddy.  I decided to utilise the multiple voice notation and created two separate lines, playing the bottom melody twice which I think works better.

Assignment 4

This was a really enjoyable assignment, though quite a challenging one!  I followed the plan I prepared and created a piece in three sections.

Analysis

The flute opening introduces the main motif of the piece, a three and a half bar melody. This theme is itself imitative in nature (bar two copies the last phrase from the previous bar a third higher) which sets the scene for the whole piece.

In the first section I used several imitative techniques.  The vibraphone first repeats the theme directly, with the last note also serving as the beginning of a new phrase and a sudden change in dynamic and mood.  In bar 12 the vibraphone plays an inverted form of the main theme, and in bar 19 the two voices echo each others’ short fragments.  In bar 7 the vibraphone also plays an augmented version of the flute line that started in the previous bar.  Towards the end of this section I built up to the climax with the two voices closely following each other on a repeated phrase based on the last bar of the main theme.

For section B I shifted down a gear or two to a more thoughtful mood.  As I wanted to keep some connection to the rest of the piece, I based it on a rhythm of two quavers followed by a longer note which is reminiscent of the main theme.  I introduced some pedalling on the vibraphone here to fill out the long bars and give it a dreamy feel.  The counterpoint is less intensive in this section but you can still hear the vibraphone imitating the flute patterns e.g. in the second half of bars 36 and 37.  I also used inversion again in bar 41 in the repeated semiquaver-semiquaver-quaver pattern.

In the final section we are back to the main theme, and this time the vibraphone plays it on the dominant.  In bar 61 the flute plays an augmented version of the theme; this is slightly modified to a straight minim – crotchet – crotchet rhythm which I thought sounded more deliberate and final, appropriate for the end of the piece.  Then there is another build up towards the final climax of the piece, with the voices closely following each other again.  I used some sudden changes in dynamics in the last few bars which I thought helped to intensify the ending.

Reflection

I enjoyed writing for this combination of instruments and I think they sound good together.  I’m aware that the vibraphone can be used in much more demanding ways than I have done here but I thought writing a single line was the best way to focus on the counterpoint itself.  I also tried to be aware of the relative pitches of the two voices, to make sure they are well balanced throughout the piece.

I’ve marked vibraphone pedalling only in the second section where I explicitly wanted the notes to sound together; probably some pedal would be necessary to sustain the long notes in the rest of the piece but I have left this to the discretion of the performer who would best be able to judge this.

Structurally I think the plan for the piece worked out well enough; the middle section was a nice contrast, though I think there is a possibility that I slightly overdid the climax at the end of the first section, detracting a bit from the ending.  I again put quite a bit of effort into the dynamics and articulation, and I think the staccato, accents and sudden dynamic changes all help towards developing the energetic character I wanted to create.

Assignment 4: ground plan

Assignment 4 is an exercise in imitative counterpoint, and we are asked to compose a piece about 3 minutes long for two instruments (woodwind and/or tuned percussion). I think counterpoint can be particularly exciting when used in fast, energetic pieces as it can create some really compelling climaxes, so this is the effect I am going to attempt to create!  I have chosen to write it for flute and vibraphone, both very agile instruments which should suit this style well.  They also complement each other nicely as the flute has a breathy tone whereas the vibraphone is very clear and metallic.

I have created a four bar motif which I will use as the main subject for the composition, along the lines of a fughetta (very loosely).  It is in 4/4 time and seems to work best at a tempo of 118 beats per minute.  My draft structure is in ternary form:

A – Main subject in E minor introduced decisively on the flute, and imitated on the vibraphone starting in bar 4 (it works with a slight overlap between the voices).  It will then settle back into a quieter, anticipatory mood, allowing the counterpoint to develop and new musical ideas to be introduced before building up to the first climax of the piece. This section should be about one minute long: 30 bars.

B – Sudden change of character, more dreamy and contemplative.  Time signature change to 6/4 to stretch out the bars and change the grouping to 3 beats.  I’ll also modulate to a major key, possibly to C Lydian, which shares many notes with E minor. I’ll aim for this to be a one minute interlude, which is approximately 20 bars in this new time signature.

A’ – Re-cap of the opening subject, then a build up to the final climax of the counterpoint. I want the piece to end as decisively as it starts, possibly using the voices in unison.  This final section should also last approximately one minute / 30 bars.

Some of the imitative devices I plan to try and use are:

  • Straight imitation of the full four bar motif
  • Imitation starting on the dominant (as used in fugues)
  • Inversion
  • Stretto (starting the second voice very shortly after the first voice)
  • Augmentation (by doubling the note values)
  • Echo (short fragments passed between the voices)