Assignment 5 – Revision and Reflection

The focus of my tutor’s feedback for this final assignment seems to be on providing clear and unambiguous directions to the performers on how it should be played.  Aside from one notational correction (using a dotted semibreve to fill a bar rather than two tied dotted minims), his suggestions were mostly related to phrasing, particularly to assist the interpretation of piano pedalling.  I had already started to use multiple voices in the piano part, but his suggestions of additional places to use this technique were very helpful and I have taken them on board in my revised score.  On the same theme, I also modified a few places with rests to become longer notes so that it is consistent with the intended pedalling.  Finally, I also followed his suggestion to notate the double flats enharmonically for ease of reading – I had been unwittingly editing the saxophone parts in the non transposed versions and so had not noticed these.

With regards to the final decrescendo that he spotted was missing on the tenor saxophone part – in the end I decided to remove this as I don’t think a complete fade out to nothing (‘al niente’) is quite right for this piece.

I was also glad to see that by the end of this first module, my efforts to improve my score presentation had finally been successful!

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Assignment 5

Overview

As in previous assignments, I followed the basic structure I developed in my plan.  I think this mostly worked well, although it ended up being slightly longer than I intended (3′, 30”) due to quite a few rits and pauses at various points, which I will bear in mind for future work if I need it to fit exact timings.

Structure

I decided early on in the planning of this piece that I wanted each cycle of the chord progression to have a slightly different mood or character.  I think I have managed to achieve this through varying dynamics and melodic lines, and by changing the emphasis between the instruments.

Cycle 1

After a short piano introduction which sets the overall tempo and key of the piece, the first section introduces the chord progression with the alto saxophone playing a calm, fairly subdued melody, joined by the tenor saxophone half way through.  The piano part plays arpeggiated  chords; mostly in root position, but I chose to use first inversion in bars 14-16 because I think the repeated bass note (G#) makes the chord progression more effective as it is less anticipated (similarly in bars 22-24 with B as the bass note).

As this is the very first time we hear the full cycle of the chord progression, I felt that the music needed some breathing space before going straight onto the next, and so I decided to re-use four bars of the piano part from the introductory material to prepare the next cycle.

Cycle 2

The second cycle sets  a more energetic mood using both saxophones from the beginning; the alto saxophone plays in a higher register which creates a brighter, louder sound, and the tenor saxophone plays a repeated rising quaver phrase.  There is a crescendo and sudden caesura at the ‘resting point’ in bar 12 of the cycle, and so it seemed natural to use the remaining four bars as a piano only transition to the next cycle.

Cycle 3

As planned, the melodies used in this cycle are quite chromatic and wandering, and the dynamics come down a level to reflect the change in mood.  It ends with a ritardando and a pause, preparing the next section.

Cycle 4

This is a lengthened version of the cycle; instead of making each chord last for two bars as planned I decided to switch to a 6/4 time signature which I think fits better as the second chord falls on a weak beat instead of a strong one.  This is the piano’s turn to have the melody, with the left hand playing an accompanying bass-chord-chord pattern – this time using first inversion in bar two as well as later on.  I initially intended this section to contain the main climax of the piece, but as there is a whole cycle still left to be played I decided it worked best to delay the climax until the last one.

Cycle 5

Since the final section is a change in time signature to 12/8, it needed a couple of bars introduction, and this also served well as an accelerando phrase to take us from the slower tempo of the end of the previous section to the new tempo.  This time the tenor saxophone has the main melody, and the alto saxophone gradually increases in dynamic to join it, with a running quaver melody leading up to the climax.

Ending

To anticipate the ending of the piece, I delayed the final cadence by extending both the penultimate chord (II) as well as the final dominant chord, both by an additional bar.  Rather than end on a single tonic chord, I decided to return to the introductory phrase based on I-VI-I, and also moved the piano part back up to the top of the keyboard where the piece started, bringing it full circle.

 

Performance and Presentation Notes

I experimented with the saxophone’s glissando effect in Sibelius whilst working on this assignment but felt in the end that it wasn’t in keeping with the style of the piece.  I did however use some trills, and a combination of long notes and fast passages which I think make good use of the capabilities of the instrument.  The alto saxophone part goes as high as concert G# 5  which is at the top of its range, but as it is in a loud section of the music I believe it should be playable by a competent performer.  I think the phrasing is generally a clear indicator of where the players should breathe, and I have added some explicit breath marks in particular sections where I feel they might need guidance, such as in the alto part from bar 81.

In the piano part I put pedalling in for the play-back (as I have indicated it to be played ‘con pedale’), but have hidden the marks from the printed score as this is more usual for piano music where the pedal is used throughout the piece in a fairly obvious, consistent way.  The piano part uses a good range of the piano, particularly at the treble end, and so I have used a combination of 8va notations and clef changes to avoid large numbers of ledger lines.  I also sometimes indicated different dynamics in the right and left hand; this is something that a good pianist will usually do without prompting (e.g. to bring out the melody) but I thought it was worth being explicit in some cases.

Finally, I tried to take on board my tutor’s comments from previous assignments about presentation, in particular with respect to staff size, spacing and dynamics.

Assignment 5: Plan

Introduction

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:

chord_sequence
Chord sequence, shown in root position

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.

Instruments

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.

Planned structure

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.

Project 14

The final project in this part of the course is a short improvisation on a dominant, delaying the resolution of the perfect cadence until the very end.  I chose the key of Eb major with a running left hand passage based on the dominant 7th chord.  The right hand has a repeated two bar phrase with emphasises the dominant and submediant notes, and adds a second melody over the top in bar three as it crescendos to the climax.

Following a suggestion in the course notes I introduced an unexpected chord in bar 6, along with a sudden drop in dynamics after the crescendo.  It then works it way back to the dominant via the subdominant, before finally resolving to the tonic.

project14
Project 14

Project 13

This project asks us to compose several ‘dressed up’ perfect cadences.  My first is in D major, and uses a crescendo and a diminuendo to direct the phrase towards resolving into the tonic:

project13-1
Project 13-1

My second example is in C minor, and I have chosen a syncopated, jazzy style.  By having an emphasis on the Ab in the right hand (a semitone above the dominant note), I think this has the effect of prolonging the cadence.

project13-2
Project 13-2

The next is in G minor, and uses a repeated sequence of the left hand dominant chord first in root position  (including the 7th) and then in third inversion.  I think the third inversion form of the chord particularly seems to lead to the resolution as the bass note is the 2nd note in the home scale, and so has the feeling of wanting to fall down to the G.

project13-3
Project 13-3

My final example is in C major, and I have used a dominant 7th chord as the basis for the left hand with the 7th in the bass.  In the melodic line I have chosen to place the emphasis at the start of each bar on particular notes of the home scale (6th, 4th, and 2nd), which again give the feeling of needing a resolution.

project13-4
Project 13-4

Wagner: Prelude to Das Rheingold

This is certainly an unusual prelude – 136 bars (over four minutes) of what is essentially an E flat major chord!  It is part of Wagner’s operatic Ring Cycle, and this particular prelude is intended to convey the motion of the river Rhine.

It begins with a very long sustained tonic note in the bass instruments, with the dominant note being added in after four bars.  Then we hear a sequence of intervals all played in the same rhythm (quaver upbeat on the first note):

  • V-I
  • III-V
  • I-III

This series is repeated several times, and then the different parts start to play them in combination with each other. The music has a serene feeling, particularly with the continued sustained tonic note in the bass. After a while the strings start to play a running melody based on arpeggios of the Eb chord, and for the first time we hear other notes in the scale (II, IV and VII), but always with the phrases leading towards the main triad notes.  The texture builds up in the woodwind parts, and the strings switch from quavers into semiquavers, creating a feeling of movement.  The prelude ends with a climax created from a series of ascending scales and crescendos.

Cadenzas

A cadenza is often an extremely virtuosic passage, usually played by a solo performer for example in a concerto.  It comes from the word ‘cadence’ and is thus a way of finishing a section of the music (often at the end of a movement).

They were originally intended to be improvised, but over time they started to be more commonly written down.  Often they contain or develop themes from the main work itself.  I have written some notes on a few famous cadenzas I have listened to below.

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3

This is an incredibly difficult cadenza in the first movement of Rachmaninov’s beautiful piano concerto.  It starts after a quiet section of the movement, introduced by tremolo strings and the bassoon playing a repeated dominant note, building up the suspense. When the piano cadenza finally starts the music immediately changes key, and a low rumbling left hand accompaniment gradually builds up the intensity and dynamics.  Then there is a chromatic descending passage, before the opening theme of the first movement can again be heard – but whereas before it was a single line melody it is now played with loud, heavy chords, sounding desperate and passionate.  I like the way this cadenza ends with a rippling effect on the piano, fading out as a solo flute line comes in, back to the more subdued mood of before the cadenza started.

Joachim: Cadenza to Brahm’s Violin Concerto

You can listen and follow along to the score to this here.

The cadenza starts and ends in D major (the same key as the concerto itself), but transitions through other keys such as G major and E minor.  There is often an unexpected harmony or key change at the end of a long arpeggio.  It was particularly interesting to listen to it after having read the course notes about the role of the dominant chord in harmonic progressions and cadences.  The opening phrase starts and ends with a long dominant note, which I think perhaps suggests a question being asked.  At the end of the cadenza the dominant is given significance again (this time tied over a bar) before eventually resolving into the tonic.

This cadenza gives ample scope for virtuoso playing – lots of double stops, very high passages, fast arpeggios and trills.  It is played with plenty of rubato, quite freely, which I think is common to many cadenzas as it is in keeping with the improvisatory style.  The cadenza ends very quietly, preparing the next section which takes on a similar mood.

Beethoven: Cadenza to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20

Beethoven’s cadenza to the first movement of this piano concerto is introduced by a climactic dominant note in the orchestra.  The piano starts the cadenza with a series of dramatic trills and a  repeated characteristic short run in the bass taken from the opening of the movement where it is first played in the strings. We then again hear one of the themes from earlier in the movement, this time first transformed into a major key before being developed further.  The cadenza ends as it starts with another series of trills, finishing with a firm perfect cadence as the orchestra returns to play the finale of the movement.