100 Days – Day 39

When I got home last night, I did some work on my Christmas Carols – composed 3 verses (very simple verses) of I Sing of a Maiden, and did some research into the text of Sir Christëmas – a fascinating little 15th century carol with some French lines. According to some sources, it’s the earliest source for an actual personification called “Christmas”. What I didn’t know is that the original tune itself is actually extant, so I must find a way to weave that in. The Wikipedia page erroneously says that Mathias’ famous setting is an arrangement, but about 8 seconds of looking at both versions proves that not to be true.

Re: the PhD. Fugue + Gigue = FGIGUUEE?

100 Days – Day 38

State of the Phd Address

Had to take a few days off working on the PhD and posting here because of a very mentally intense chamber choir project – 2 Bach motets, 2 Brahms motets, a whole pile of Schütz and a haunting Es Ist Genug by Sven-David Sändstrom, who passed away on Monday last, which brings a new layer of emotion and poignancy to today and tomorrow’s concerts.

I have been tipping away at my Christmas carols – putting the structure together, gathering my materials, generally getting them to a place where I can just sit down and knock them out in a few days. It feels mad to be planning Christmas in June, but sometimes I think I’d be happy if I wrote nothing else in my life but Christmas Carols! They occupy a very specific place in my output – both sacred and secular. I feel like I can express both the more serious side of my composition and the zany, Moother Goose side of things in the one breath.

I’ve also been dipping in and out of the brilliant Staying Composed by composer Dale Trumbore, which came out a little over a week ago, and is about “Overcoming anxiety and self-doubt within a creative life.” I knew it was the book for me when I arrived home during the week, and it was sitting in its envelope having just arrived, and I took it out, and flipped through it at random, and the first chapter heading I saw was DO IT NOW.

100 Days – Day 33

Laying Foundations

for a proper approach to the big re-write. I only have 3 lines of text to set, and I think that I need about 4 minutes of music, for proportional reasons. Tonight I had a flash of inspiration for a striking opening.

This week I have a Chamber Choir project, so I will get very little composition done, but I might spend my evenings orchestrating ACC2.

100 Days – Day 32

I took a break from actually sitting down and composing for extended periods of time today and yesterday. I just needed some space from the PhD piece. I put together some sketches for a new opening of ACC5, which I’ll work on in a week after I finish Before Bach and After 4 with the Chamber Choir. Today I mostly spent my time prepping 6 new pieces for publication with Cailino Music Publishers, which is exciting! I just need to chase down published sources for 4 of my texts and it’s all good to go.

I also started sketching one of my 4 Christmas Carols for Chamber Choir to sing later this year. I had been going to leave these until I’d done a bit more of my PhD, but again, it’s good to get some space from that, while still being productive. In this case, I started work on The Morningstar, which is going to be a sort of arrangement of the first verse of the hymn “How Brightly Beams the Morning Star.”. I say “sort of arrangement” because while it will be heavily based on that tune, and almost always recognisably so, It’ll be heard through layers and layers of shimmery wrapping paper. How festive!

100 Days – Day 31

Returning to First Principles

Founder, and Foundation

So I’ve tentatively started (again) the re-write of movement 5 of ACC. I have a new idea – one that has been fermenting for a few days, and that caused me to realise that what I had been working on wasn’t working. I feel that it’s a very strong idea, and the temptation to jump straight into sibelius and start working through it is very strong.

That’s exactly what went wrong last time. I have learned, time and again, that the approach to composition that works best for me is to lay a solid foundation on paper first – come up with all the key musical building blocks, map out where they’re going to go. Then I put those into sibelius, with big gaps in between, and fill it in later. If there’s a lot of filling in to do, then the process repeats. If it’s just little bits, then I can usually get away with doing that straight into sibelius.

This approach can make supervisions a little tricky sometimes. I send my long-suffering supervisor, Dr Phill, about 30 pages of music, lots of which is blank, lots of which is fragmentary, and hope that I can somehow explain to him how this sketch of a blueprint is going to look and sound when it’s finished.

In the case of the big re-write I had not done my homework. I had not laid my foundations and selected my materials. I’d come up with one or two rough-hewn ideas, and gone ahead with putting it all together before I even really knew how the pieces fit. The end result? Dustbin

100 Days – Day 30

Killing My Darlings

It’s a funny old thing, creativity. Sometimes you get swept up in an idea or a concept, sticking to it even though it’s clearly not working. I realised today (after writing what I think is a truly stunning bridge between section a and section b of ACC 5) that most of section a is not good. I had become so invested in this idea of the ‘1-3-1’ scale that I couldn’t see that I simply wasn’t able to make it work. I may be able to use that scale in future, but for what I’m writing, it’s just not suitable. So this afternoon, after a quick lunch and a phone call to Dominica, I scrapped the work of a week and a half and am starting again. I’m going to be using a rhythmic and melodic idea from ACC 3, which is the first movement I composed, and I think it’ll be a lot more coherent than it had been previously. I only have 3 lines of text to re-set, but I’m hoping 3rd time’s the charm.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to do this. When I was writing The Falling Tear, I went through 2 different version, both of which I binned, before settling on the version you can hear on youtube. I actually sent the 1st version to Phillip, my supervisor, a couple of days before a supervision meeting, and then the 2nd version at 3 o clock on the morning of that supervision. He – quite rightly – said that I was in the right ball park, but was barking up the wrong goal post. He said the same about the 1st version of this that I sent him in October, and something similar about the 2nd version, only a sketch of which I sent him, last time I saw him in Aberdeen.

However, sometimes it’s good to get these things out of your system. It’s good to spend a while on something, get it semi-formed (or even fully-formed), so that you can haul it out into the light of day, see that it’s rife with inadequacies, almost unsalvageable, and bin it. There’s no chance of a niggling suspicion lurking at the back of your brain that maybe it would have worked if you’d stuck with it.

I stuck with it, and it didn’t work. So I’m binning it, and I’m moving on.

100 Days – Day 29

On Quotation

I use quotation a lot in my music. If I’m writing a choral piece or a song, and I can refer to another piece of music that deals with the same or similar text, I’ll often throw in a chunk of someone else’s music to spice things up a bit. My first treatment of this, so far as I can remember, was in using a notable chord progression from Vierne’s Berceuse in the Nunc Dimittis of my Faux Bourdons. A Berceuse is an evening piece, and a Nunc Dimittis is an evening canticle, sung by Simeon in the evening of his life, so it felt right.

My PhD piece is being brought together by quotations from the hymn tune Columba: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sds1oHhFFSo

The opening rise and fall is the subject of my fugue:

Columba  opening phrase, in 5/4 with a raised 4th (gotta have that Lydian flavour!)

Columba opening phrase, in 5/4 with a raised 4th (gotta have that Lydian flavour!)

And the first 2 phrases are the canon from the beginning of ACC 5 that I’ve been working on.

This time, it’s been modified to fit into a “1,3,1” scale that I’m using, but still with the raised 4th to fit into my overall Lydian approach.

This time, it’s been modified to fit into a “1,3,1” scale that I’m using, but still with the raised 4th to fit into my overall Lydian approach.

And last night and today, I realised that the beginning of the 3rd phrase would work really nicely as the bridge from the 1st half of ACC 5 into the 2nd.

Bridge – Work in Progress

Bridge – Work in Progress

Which also ties it in nicely with the big passacaglia I wrote for the beginning of ACC 7

Passacaglia – Fragment

Passacaglia – Fragment

There is a recurring bell motif that happens throughout the piece. Until today, I wasn’t happy with any of the actual motifs I’d come up with. The beginnings were fine, but the endings were not. The ending is now going to be this 3rd phrase, and so, the whole piece will tie in together, bound by this one hymn tune, which is never explicitly stated – only played around with.

There is a similar treatment in the 3rd movement of The Falling Tear, which I think of as a toccata-fantasia on King Jesus Hath a Garden. Listen to that here: https://youtu.be/f5uqXGmD7Fg?t=334

100 Days – Day 28

My canons before my cat-assistant came in and helped.

My canons before my cat-assistant came in and helped.

My canons after my cat-assistant came in and helped.

My canons after my cat-assistant came in and helped.

After a very slow week, I’m finally back into the swing of composition. The whole of the skeleton of the big re-write is done. I just need to write all the string parts and lots of the choral parts – simple!
Next week I’ll be back on track, writing the string parts of my 2nd movement in the evenings – expect lots and lots of sul ponticello.