September, a Tone Poem, February 24, 2022

A reminder: the embedded playable excerpt (see below) is a snapshot in time, and will most certainly not be present, unchanged, in the final composition. I’m putting them here for illustrative purposes only.

Overview. This week or so has been spent chasing a few of the musical ideas presented in the first thematic area (see Chapter 1), as well as some ideas about where the second theme might go. I’ve included a nearly-complete version of the first thematic area below. Here’s a brief outline of what you can hear…

  1. The original first theme is strings-only. (This is a slightly-improved version of what you heard in Chapter 1.)
  2. The theme is repeated with woodwinds only. (I started that in Chapter 1, it’s now fully stated.)
  3. This second statement crescendos into a brief section which is pretty much “all in” (almost all available instruments), then diminishing until…
  4. The next section starts out quite small, adding a solo trumpet statement.
  5. Again, things grow, with other voices taking up the trumpet theme.
  6. Gradually, the rhythmic feel changes (see below), with fewer voices playing compressed lines. This provides the final transition into the second thematic area.
  7. I’ve included about 30 measures of the second thematic area. If you listen to the full excerpt below, it ends abruptly — that’s as far as I’ve gotten!

Theory: As is my habit, there’s a general rotation throughout between keys, in this case E♭ major, B major, and G major (each a major third below the previous). The rotation is quick in both initial thematic statements, but are extended as the themes are developed. Transitions between keys are sometimes provided through cadences, and sometimes are simply abrupt.

Although most of the music present in the first section can be traced back to the original first theme, the trumpet’s (in # 4 above) is actually a slightly modified version of the second theme — that theme hasn’t occurred yet, so when the second thematic section actually happens, there is some hoped-for familiarity, tying everything together.

Rhythm: The first section is in 7/4, the second in 7/8, though the tempo of a quarter note doesn’t actually change between the two sections. But the feel of these two rhythms is nevertheless quite different. The first is grouped by quarter notes as 4-3, though that varies wildly. I’ve used held notes over measure lines to distort the pattern. In contrast, the second theme is grouped by eighth notes as 2-2-3. (For the entirety of the second thematic area, I’ll be varying things less as I attempt to provide a sort-of danceable feel, requiring more consistency — more on that later.) Since the latter is just a halving of the former, the transition (#6 above) leverages this fact in the tympani by dividing the 7/4 up into two 7/8 measures before the change. One can feel the conflict between the two rhythmic patterns, right until the transition is complete and the second thematic area starts with a full statement in the woodwinds, with the oboe taking the lead.

Composition decisions: As always, I’m doing a lot of trial-and-error. There are a couple of things that may happen as I continue to work on this composition.

  1. My use of instruments will change as I get better at exploiting their respective advantages. I may even decide to expand instrumentation. I’ve already ditched the idea of using single woodwind and brass lines — that’s why the score in the video below looks so huge, there are now two staves for each woodwind/brass instrument rather than just one. It might be that trombones could be useful, and most certainly more percussion. (Look out! Mission creep!)
  2. Although the three key areas I’ve used are not harmonically related in a traditional diatonic sense (which provides some good “interest” in transitions), I’m beginning to wonder about that. The composition so far does have a lot of familiarity built in, the results of such a small harmonic underpinning. I’m thinking that the final section of the composition may see a huge harmonic change. I’m also thinking about expanding the 7/8 time scheme to 4/4 (the mathematical equivalent of 8/8). We’ll have to see where the work leads me.
  3. Things I’m not happy with yet: transition to second theme, density in some areas, and, as always, the sound quality of the sample library rendering of the work. (That last problem isn’t a problem for my current workflow, and will be a problem only if I can’t get an actual orchestra to play the work.)

Go to Chapter 3: Theme Details

Go to September home page