Advent Calendar: 2

More concerts today – three of them! Which has somewhat curtailed my planned composing time, but in a good cause. I had a play around with chords for the string quartet though, picking out the chords I’ve used in the opening and testing them out in inversion.

While I’ve hardly been thorough about this (I did it on the train, putting the chords into a basic notation app called Symphony Pro so I could hear them as I went and for easy export to continue in Finale) it’s still been enlightening. I’ve discovered that there’s more harmony in there than I realised – while the opening is based around one chord made up of stacked tritones, the glissandi move that chord to other, new chords, which of case are now ripe to be used elsewhere in the piece. I hadn’t really thought about that when I was writing – I was thinking about creating instability in the main chord, but not about the chords that would result from that wobbliness.

I also realised that I’ve never really explored inversions of chords I’ve chosen. For harmonising chorales, sure, but never for a chord I’ve ‘invented’ for a piece. It turned out to be a really interesting exercise, and one way I’ve started to make this process my own is by not just inverting the chords but by trying them with different spacing. My ear prefers more widely spaced chords, but close vs open vs inversions gives a lot of scope for different uses of a single chord.

I’m really looking forward to being able to test out some of these in the piece now, and I’m hoping this may help me with progressing it. The more I think about the last section I’ve written (since throwing out the plan), the more I feel that that should be material for the second part of the piece more than the first part, and that I need to stretch out the chordal part a bit more. Which oddly enough is what was in the plan, but I’m happier about it now because it feels natural and what the piece wants, and now I know where I want to get to to (that is, the bit I’ve written) hopefully it’ll be easier to get there.

The concerts this evening have been really helpful too. I’m finding I’m thinking differently, more composerly, about the music I hear – even in The Mikado last night my brain wouldn’t shut up and kept prodding me saying “hmm – lots of octave doublings in this overture!”. Tonight was all about the textures. It was a great evening – kind of a mini festival put on by London Sinfonietta called New Music Show 3. I was with a bunch of friends from college because we’d all got £3 tickets through Trinity (yay for being a student!), and it was awesome to get other people’s critical reactions straight away and to discuss the things we liked and the things we didn’t.

For me, the standout piece of the evening was David Fennessy‘s 13 Factories which was just outstandingly beautiful, using recordings of traditional looms and sine tones, through small speakers onstage which performers moved in and out of range of microphones, muted against their bodies or modulated the sound emitted with their hands and mouths to produce harmonics. He also had the instrumentalists singing, just occasional sustained tones, which was very effective.

I very much enjoyed too the Hans Werner Henze and Elliott Carter memorial pieces, just a short work by each of these composers whose works I had never heard before (I know, I’m slack, but there’s just so much music out there!). I’m thinking of stealing a texture from the Carter where he uses trills low on flute and clarinet, overlapping with each other. I think this one might be useful for the Ansel Adams piece…

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