Any composer hopes that an entire work is moving and pleasurable, even if the details of construction aren’t obvious. But like all things in the arts, your listening often benefits by knowing the pieces used to construct it. That’s what this “chapter” is about. Although we have yet to reach (if you’re following along) a finished work with which to compare, the items below are the building blocks I’m using. This page will also serve as a reference source when you’ve completed your journey to the finished work. (An aside — Chapter 1 references two “themes.” Beginning in Chapter 2 I reference “thematic areas.” Chapter 1 has those areas’ starts, and Chapter 2 has a more-or-less complete rendering of the 1st thematic area. Below I’ve used “themes” and “musical ideas” pretty much interchangeably.)
The composition leverages a fairly common “tone poem” approach: the use of ever-changing small musical ideas strewn throughout the piece. This does more than simply paint a picture with a variety of colors — these small musical ideas (themes) contribute to the structure of the entire piece, and provide repeated (if varied) points of familiarity for the listener’s ear. Often, composers use these ideas to represent real objects or events — for example, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, “Pastoral,” uses thematic material to represent singing birds, even a coming storm. (My thinking does not currently include such direct connections — I’ll be leveraging guidance for a final video for this project, and we’ll see what they hear in the music!)
In Chapter 1, I placed playbacks of the main themes which start two thematic areas in the composition. On this page I’ve referenced five excerpts of 2-3 measures length, of 5 musical ideas. Three of them you’ve heard before (two appear in Chapter 1, and a 3rd in Chapter 2). As you can see below, these small themes share a lot of similarities with each other (with #5 possibly being an exception).
It is my hope that pulling each of these musical ideas out and displaying them separately will help a listener hear them in the final composition. I’ll also talk a little about where these musical ideas appear throughout the final composition — subject to change, of course!
Theme # 1: You’ve already heard this idea in Chapter 1, but I’ve pulled out just the theme itself (the viola with cello/base accompaniment — click here to listen). This is one of two ideas in the first thematic area. It reappears late in the second thematic area as a foreshadowing of its full use at the very end. The full thematic statement serves as “bookends” to the entire composition, and its characteristics appear throughout.
Theme # 2: If you’ve listened to Chapter 2‘s excerpt, you know that the trumpet heralds a new idea — not one that stands on its own, but one that is a slower, slightly modified version of the main idea starting the second thematic area (#3 below — click here to listen.)
Theme # 3: In Chapter’s 1 and 2, this theme was actually referenced as #2, but I changed that to make room for the trumpet theme above, which precedes this one. This theme is a faster version of #2, and starts the 2nd thematic area (click here to listen). This listening excerpt pulls out the oboe (playing the main idea) and the clarinet (which provides an accompaniment).
As the second thematic area expands, #3 gets simplified and streamlined to serve as an accompaniment for other things (click here to listen). The flutes are leveraged in this example, though this variation of #3 bounces around between instruments.
Theme # 4: The first idea that the streamlined version of #3 serves to accompany is this long, sustained, theme first appearing in the cellos, with the horns helping (click here to listen). If you look/listen closely, you can see its relationship with #1 above. This idea also appears later, near the close of the 2nd thematic area, where almost everything ends up making an appearance before #1 serves to close the piece.
Theme #5: This thematic idea starts as a “call and response” between pizzicato strings and the timpani (click here to hear the pizz.)…
…but the timpani’s simple rhythmic response really is the theme. This small, seemingly insignificant idea makes a lot of appearances throughout the second thematic area, and later in the final coda (click here to listen).
A simple variation of #5 appears in other instruments (this example uses clarinets), where the accents of the tympani are replaced by pitch changes. Not incidentally, you can really see what the impact of a 7/8 meter provides here, though that impact presents throughout the piece. (Click here to listen.)
These small musical ideas don’t sound like much when played here. In the final composition, you’ll hear them in the context of the rest of the instrumentation, and their use in the composition’s thematic and structural flow and goals. Before listening to the final composition, you should come back here to refresh your memory.
Go to Chapter 4: The Project So Far