Symphony No. 1 – A Blog: Movement Four in Short Score

April 25, 2013: This has been a productive week.

My original intent for today’s post was to go further into depth about the core concept of “conversation” that I introduced last week. However, during the time between my last post and now something kind of remarkable happened. I got busy – the good kind of busy – and sketched out the entire fourth movement. Granted, it is a messy sketch – but a sketch nonetheless! So – in lieu of my original plan – I will present today this sketch in some detail, reserving my “topic of conversation” (see what I did there?) for next week.

As mentioned last week, the fourth movement is designed to be the “heart and soul” of the whole work. It is inspired by a serious dialog – a meaningful and emotional conversation between two individual voices. Below is the first page of my hand-drawn short score:

Mvt 4 short score pg 1 - Apr 24, 2013, 1-47 PM

Movement 4, hand-written short score – page 1

The hand-written short score is a bit of a mess, but very important to my creative process. Some of the most essential material for the whole movement is sketched here, by hand, away from both the piano and the computer (it is my personal approach to write core material for the work without the aural guidance of a keyboard or computer). Fragments of the two voices – those engaged in the dialog – are taken from the sketch presented last week and flushed out into a fuller presentation. Between these fragments are orchestrated chords – guideposts meant to draw the listeners attention and create contrast between the monophonic melodies. Finally, the “listen” motive that I drew up last week is integrated into the texture, preceding each presentation of the first voice – as if making sure the “second voice” is in fact listening.

Allow me to take a moment here to discuss the process of using a short score to compose my sketch. Not every composer does this – in fact, I have several large ensemble works that were created without the use of one. Experience has taught me that I simply work better with one. When composing straight into the full score I tend to over-compose the work, resulting in way too many voices, not enough attention to color, and an obsessive-compulsive need to consider instrumentation and technique – often at the expense of creativity. A short score thus serves as a good limitation technique for me, forcing me to focus solely on the notes and rhythms and reserving the rest of the details for a later sketch.

Oddly enough, through the use of a short score I have discovered that – rather than feeling limited – my creativity ends up feeling energized and liberated! It affords me the opportunity to write a lot of music without worrying about instrumentation, difficulty, orchestration, and a whole manner of little details that I would otherwise obsess over. Granted, all of this will of course be part of the eventual work, but in due time and after multiple passes through both short and full score. It isn’t just about writing on fewer staves – it give me the opportunity to re-conceive the work with greater detail and color. Not to mention, it allows me to consider technical issues – including overall difficulty, if necessary – as a separate process from the actual music-making. As I said – this is very liberating from a creative perspective. I can hear many of my former professors shouting “I told you so!” right now.

At any rate – back to the sketch. I composed several small sections by hand, making sure that the core material I was using gave me enough creative flexibility for ample musical development. Afterwards, I moved to the computer and began inputting the hand-drawn score into Sibelius. This might seem like an odd choice to some, but for me it works quite well. I am incredibly comfortable with computers, and simply work faster using notation software. I am, if nothing else, a product of my generation.

Movement 4 Short Score pg 1

Movement 4, computer-notated short score – page 1

Above is the same first page of the short score, moved into computer notation. One change that happened in this stage was that I made the decision to move from three staves to four. This decision was mostly out of convenience, allowing me some additional flexibility to thicken the texture at a few key moments. The computer notated sketch is also notably more detailed than the hand-drawn sketch. This has do with the fact that as I continued to sketch and re-sketch the work, more and more of the details began to surface. Once I move this work to full score, expect even more details to emerge. As before, take note of the line starting in measure four – the “first voice.” This melodic fragment is intentionally abrupt and disconnected – as if trying to say something but failing to be either convincing or direct. The notes have been altered somewhat from the previous sketch to help convey that sense of disconnection.

Movement 4 Short Score pg 5

Movement 4, computer-notated short score – page 5

Here is one more page from the computer-notated sketch, page 5. This page represents the climax of the movement, where the “second voice” melody reaches a point of extreme frustration (culminating with tutti A-flats mixed with some Gs – a dissonant scream of sorts). The first voice melody interrupts this frustration, and slowly calms down the music through a process of “rhythmic subtraction” – that is, repeating a rhythm and with each successive repetition removing a single note until only a small fragment remains. The first voice is then finally presented in earnest – a direct and honest presentation of the melody as a simple and tender song. The second voice enters on page 6 in counterpoint to this melody, as if finally understanding what the first voice was attempting to say. This key moment is about two-thirds through the movement, and is the culmination of the entire Symphony.

So, there it is – movement four, in brief. What’s next? Well, rather than sketching out the other movements, I am going to begin orchestrating this movement and move it to full score. I feel that it is essential for me to have a complete movement ready to share on this blog – especially for any conductors out there who might be interested in seeing how this whole piece will look in its final form! I also believe that this movement might end up standing well enough on its own to be a separate concert piece, programmable as an individual six-and-a-half minute work. If all goes well, I hope to have it orchestrated in a month or so. That might be a bit ambitious on my part, but considering the nature of this project I see no reason to restrain my ambitions any more than I already have.

Which, of course, means not restraining them at all!

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