100 Days – Day 44

I’m all about those fugues at the moment.

Amra Choluim Chille at the moment features 2 fugues, both based on the hymn tune St Columba.

I’ve always liked writing fugues. There’s something satisfying about laying out your subject, planning your countersubject, your entries, picking material for your episodes, and working out the points where you can go into stretto, or augmentation or diminution. Until this point I’ve only written relatively simple 3 voices fugues (Dr Foster’s Fugue, Crux Fidelis and Peacock Fugue) but for Amra Choluim Chille I’ve taken the next step and added a fourth voice. This not only adds a layer of polyphonic complexity, but also an extra element of choice in terms of your fugal structure. Which voice do you start on? Do you unfold your subject upwards or downwards? Do you leave one or more voices out at certain points? It actually makes the compositional process exponentially more difficult – it’s one third more likely to go disastrously wrong if you don’t control your material very carefully.

But when it all comes together, it’s extremely exhilerating.

100 Days – Day 43

Why is ACC 5 going so well?

A few days ago I recalled a slip-jig that I composed when I was in secondary school. My old school, Coláiste Choilm, is named after St Columba.

It is too much of a coincidence not to use the slip-jig I composed while at a school named for Columba in an elegy for Columba. It has becoming the main focus of the orchestral music accompanying a section of text detailing Columba’s battles with Satan. So the D minor slip jig sits over an ever growing bed of chords that grow in dissonance – Columba being subsumed by the devil – before the first 2 phrases of the big bell motif, which is now based on the hymn tune Columba suddenly comes crashing in, representing Columba’s triumph. This is followed by some of the best music I think I’ve ever written – some modal imitative polyphony for string quartet representing the sheer exhaustion of the saint at the culmination of his battle.

For the first time in a couple of week’s I feel really good about this movement!

Once I’ve had a chance to chat to Phill about it all on Friday, I’ll share a midi mock up. :)

100 Days – Day 42

ACC 5 is finally coming together

What started out yesterday morning as the beginning of the seed of the new idea has blossomed into a fully fledged formal structure and material plan for the beginning of ACC 5. It was yesterday evening as I was walking home along Sandymount Strand that I came to the realisation that I had to actually discard all of the material I’d composed in Copenhagen, and all of the ideas that I had developed to go with it. I stood there looking out to sea, and there was a rainbow in the sky, and I felt a tremendous sense of letting go of something that wasn’t working. A sense of freedom from past decisions. When I got home I set about developing those ideas and got into one of those mental places where I found it difficult to stop working because I was so encouraged by what I was writing.

The very beginning still needs a little work, but basically the structure is:

100 Days – Day 41

ACC 5: A New Hope

Lots more Celtic fire, lots less US minimalism.

In all seriousness, for the first time in about 3 weeks, I finally feel like I’m writing excellent music again. The kind of music where it doesn’t feel like a chore to notate 50 bars or so of string music, because every time I stop to take a break, I want to jump right back in again while I still have the mojo.

100 Days – Day 40

Self Care Day

I’m 2 weeks behind my schedule for ACC completed movements, but when you factor in the deletion of 9 days worth of work, that doesn’t seem so bad. I’m hoping to have the piece finished by August now, which leaves me just over 6 weeks to go.

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!