Classical Celebration: 12th October
With O Sweet Woods nearly completed it's time to start on this next instalment.
I had a meeting with the soloist (Jenny Gogolin) to get the ball rolling. (Jenny was part of the ensemble that premiered my 7 Fragments after Paul Celan in 2006. Her performance of the 3rd Fragment (a flute solo) can be accessed here)
At the moment there's still a bit of logistic work to do: I know the orchestra for the concert will need (for the Schubert Mass): violins, viola, 'celli, double-bass, trumpets, timpani and organ, and we will also have piano. I think I would like to add an extra percussion (percussion and flute work very well together, but then again, that could almost be an excuse for just sticking with the timpani.) We also talked about adding some wood-wind, a second flute or one or two clarinets.
I think the best approach is to start working out some ideas, given the known parameters, and see what becomes necessary.
Work is progressing (slowly - in general I don't like to talk about how well a new composition is going, because usually I say it's all zooming along, it's great, all's going well... etc. then I look back and am pretty disappointed with what I have written.)
So there have actually been a couple of false starts, but these are now in the bin. - In some ways there's a bit of a satisfaction in identifying that what I wrote the night before was rubbish, but I have to be careful that this satisfaction does not override my desire to write something good!
I took last Monday off to make a solid start, except Ed had a rotten night (nightmare at 3am) and so I was pretty tired all day - still, having spent a couple of hours I think there's a shape to the work.
The first section (the work will most likely be in 5 parts) is a flute solo - from which I'm gathering material to incorporate into the rest of the work. - Starting with an instrumental solo I am a little concious that this mirrors the Fragments, (Frag. I was essentially an organ solo), but it does seem a 'sensible' way to start a concertante work.
...and I apologise for the delay in posting, it's been hard enough to find time to work on this composition, let alone get to this diary, and as I mentioned in the previous post I tend to get a bit wary of saying how well a composition is going...
The outline of the work is progressing well - I would like to think I'm well past the half-way mark (in outline, there's still a lot of finishing to be done - for example, I find I tend to leave most of the expressions to the end: when I am sketching out a work they seem obvious and can wait. Dynamics in particular I tend to leave till last becase on the whole they can be quite relative - so if I add any out of context as it were, I tend to have to correct them.
If I do have any special direction regarding dynamics I usually mark them in relative terms not too loud, - must be heard especially if the orchestration would usually obscure a line (which can happen quite easily when writing for flute solo!), or when a usually well projected part (unison violins, for example) needs to be back in the texture. The German expressions (found in the second Vienesse scores, Berg and Schonberg): Hauptstimme (pricipal voice) and Nebenstimme (secondary voice) are handy and quite logical - it would be handy (and logical) if they were more widely adopted!)
As for the shape of the work I'm still sticking with the 5 parts and I'm 3/4 of my way through the 3rd part - the longests.
So far the parts are:
Finally, I was going to have some sketches posted here, but they will have to wait until I get a new battery for the camera.
solo flute - quite free in construction.
I have since been using material (pitch and rhythmic) to generate pitch an rhythmic cells to use in the subsequent parts of the work.
flute and vibraphone to the foreground
Actually, I have only written the flute and vibes parts at this stage - the orchestration will be rather spare, in general echoing the two principal lines.
variations on a bass line
Contrasting with the second, this section of the work (the longest) is built from the bottom up. I mapped out a gradually diminishing bass line - providing an harmonic base to work with (it's quite a traditional sort of model - in its own distorted way. As a bit of a coincidence I have been rehearsing Webern's Passacaglia Op.1 with the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra these past couple of weeks - which is not a bad role model.) By diminishing, bass line starts as a group of 9 notes, then the next sequence is 8 notes, then 7 notes, etc. but the length of each sequence remains the same, so as you go along the speed of the bass line gradually slows down. I guess I'll see how it goes...
Once again there's not much to report!
While I have been busy (and sort-of creative) it has been preparing the 'studio' to which I will transpose my workspace in the next few days.
I have been looking at my progress so far (still happy) - but without being able to plan more than a few minutes quiet, I don't really want to start work, only to put down my pencil after a couple of bars. Hopefully the new location will help this - fewer distractions (we won't get a phone/internet connection out there - that's a very good start.)
Having looked at the sketches a bit here are some thoughts:
- Ensemble: it's still a bit up in the air, II has clarinet and violas, whereas III has bass clarinet and no viola part. Some of the issues here are actually about personnel, so there might be some phone calls involved, but also, it might just be a case of the ensemble sorting itself out as it goes along.
- Shape of the work: again, I'm still happy with the planned shape (5 movements). I really haven't thought too hard about the last two movements - I guess I expect they will sort of come together... I do have a vague feeling about how the will turn out (IV rather florid, and big, V a bit gentler - very melodic and calm, there might be a reprise of part of the opening movement, but with accompaniment... I do hope to have some answers in a week or so.
- Staging: I'm a little surprised I haven't worried too much about the layout, and I'm assuming it might be rather conventional (not that this is by any means a bad thing). I guess the thing to note is that usually, amongst my sketches (especially the very early sketches) there is usually found some sort of seating plan, often establishing a hierarchy between some of the players... who knows, this may become necessary before the work is completed!
Finally, I had the camera out to take some shots of the study before I move to the studio, and so I took this snap of the sketches above my desk. It's all pretty plain, with (at the top) a few chords and their evolutions, the nine stages of the IIIrd movement bass line, and (at the bottom) a bit of a rhythmic motive, used a little (so far!) in II (at the moment all that I have written for this movement is flute and vibes, whereas III is pretty fully written out (except without any dynamics - I think I have already mentioned this...).
Planning sketches for flute concerto, April 2008
Lots of progress! (with Jenny's permission) I've included the email transcript of the past few days:
Sent: Sat 5/10/2008 6:19 PM
I am sorry I have not been in contact but have been off most of the week with the dreaded lurgy.
How is the piece going, have you managed to finish it? I am free this Friday say 10.30 for coffee at Uni?
Sent: Sunday, 11 May 2008 10:43 PM
To: Gogolin, Jenny E
Subject: RE: how is the piece going
Hi Jenny - sorry you've not been well. Still no baby yet, but as for the 'other' 'baby' - I have done 4 out of 5 movements - at the moment there are no dynamics... (it's just how I work, sorry) but I hope these should be done in a couple of days (not sure if I mark up 1-4 then do 5 (I think this *is* what I will do) or do 5 then mark up the whole lot?). I could send you the part as it is, but wonder how useful that would be without expression marks (?). Perhaps I'll see what sort of progress I make in the next couple of days - the other option is that I print off a copy, scrawl some general expression directions, and get that to you.
Hope all's well - look forward to catching up on Friday.
Sent: Monday, 12 May 2008 7:51 AM
To: Rohan Phillips
Subject: RE: how is the piece going
Since we are meeting Friday (provided no baby on the way!) could you give something to me then? It gives you a few days to sort out dynamics etc.
I am really keen to have the finished product rather then something that will have to be added/amended later.
Good luck with it!
Sent: Thursday, 14 May 2008 10:43 PM
To: Gogolin, Jenny E
Subject: RE: how is the piece going
Hi Jenny – here’s the solo part for 4/5 of the concerto.
To give you an idea of what the work's doing:
I: Kyrie, flute solo
II: Gloria, a ‘dialogue’ with flute and vibes, with the orchestra (yet to be added) ‘filling out the gaps’
III: Credo, most substantial, sort of a passacaglia/variations process in the bass*
IV: Sanctus, chord movement – just fl, trps, & strings – all sustained moving through a series of chord progressions.
V: Agnius dei, might be a bit of a return to the first movement, with light orchestration
I’m not sure if I mentioned the ‘Missa brevis’ that’s going on. Since the concert has masses by Haydn and Schubert I was interested in the mass as a musical form, hence I: Kyrie, II: Gloria, III: Credo etc. I don’t think there’s anything liturgical or religious going on (I actually want to preface the work with a poem by Brian Castro), bit it’s more a formal thing, for example the model for the IIIrd movement is the Credo from the Schubert (mass in G), and the IVth should have a sort of ‘Sanctus’ feel... It’s something I was a bit reticent to discuss (it’s the sort of idea that can be misinterpreted and/or take focus away from music), but I think it’s working ok.
I hope the parts are not too small, I reduced them so the music fitted on the page a bit more clearly, but they might need to be enlarged.
*oh, slight technical matter, the switch to and from piccolo in III, we could add pauses if there’s not enough time, nothing is happening (just held notes) so you shouldn’t be rushed.
Hope the type-setting’s ok (I would like to have the time to do this by hand... but am a bit short of time these days (the Fragments score is still in my ratty pencil copy).
Hope you like the work!
Completed! (well, more or less)
I must say it's been a pretty busy time in the household (check out baby George!), so it's a week or so latter than I had hoped, but the work is pretty much done!
Concerto for flute and chamber orchestra
written for Jenny Gogolin and the Bendigo Chorale Orchestra
There's still a bit to do - my final corrections need to be added to the type-set score (and I must battle with getting some of the trickier (but not too tricky, really) rhythms laid out correctly... (more of my battle with typesetting music, at times you have to be really determined to write what you want to write, rather than what some software manufacturer thinks should be written!)
I also have to get together with Jenny to see if she has any comments/corrections for the solo part.
There was a plan to have a run through quite early (like, about now!), but I think the effort required to get the whole orchestra together might be a bit much - there would likely be too many gaps in the ensemble to make the process really worth-while.
I'm pretty happy with the work - some parts look a bit better on paper, but I think it should all sound pretty well... It was interesting to hear Tim's recent performance of the Fragments in Melbourne - this went really well and if there's one work lurking behind this concerto it is the Fragments, so in some ways I find myself comparing them - does this new composition come up to the Frags... (it's a bit like choosing your favourite child!).
At the end of the day they are different works - different aims (frags a bit more rambling in form than this concerto) and I am particularly aware of the different circumstances in which each work was written... (Frags at leisure (across two years) so it could really 'discover' itself/find its own 'voice'; the concerto was written with a lot more pre-determined (duration, shape, ensemble), and there was a lot less freedom in the composition - that is, freedom to make a mistake: I still have question marks about parts of the Fragments, but these questing have been absorbed in the flow/understanding/evolution of the work).
One of the successes (I felt) about O sweet woods was how well it achieved the aim of mixing in with the Tudor programme - so I will be keen to see/hear how this composition fits in with the two masses... initially I was rather reticent to divulge the formal device of modeling this work on a missa brevis, but as I have gone on with the composition this seems more and more integral to the work.
Hopefully, I'll have some score samples up here soon.
Preparation for performance
So, not sure what happened to August or July, except for family commitments, changing jobs, and getting this piece ready for performance.
There's been quite a bit of work: tiding up the score, then extracting parts. In an ideal world (I say now) I would like to have been able to do the parts by hand - I really do think hand written parts (if they're done well!) can convey an extra feel for the work - typeset parts somehow seem a little soulless... But at the end of the day, typesetting is pretty easy (but still needs to be done well - no blaming the computer/software for any inadequacies!), and it's what players expect to see! (I think there in now a generation of students who may never have played from a hand-written part, let alone an original!)
I've had a run through with Jenny (ages ago now) and that went very well - it's great the commitment she's shown to this project (and it also pushes me to make sure I reward that commitment). There were only a couple of changes, just clarifying some articulation: especially in the thicker parts, I think it's going to be the flute's attack and characterisation which will help the part cut through. It was also interesting to find a point where I felt a couple of notes should be slurred, only to check and find that I did have this marking in the pencil score, but missed it when I was doing the good copy!
In addition to the parts, I have just copied the score (please contact the chorale if you would like a copy), and have started to look at it with my 'conductor' eyes... If there is one thing I have noticed so far, it is that I could perhaps have added a lot more courtesy accidents - naturals in particular: there are quite a few points where the texture is quite thin (only a few parts) and two parts are playing a semitone (or a major seventh, minor ninth, etc) apart - it's the nature of musicians in an ensemble to assume this is an error, and either ask if it is correct, or to try to correct it with intonation - hopefully once we get into the piece this aspect of the language will become familiar, and these intervals will sound clearly.
There's also a bit of cueing to do, and with a lot of rests (it's always a shock to do the parts as the score never really shows how long some parts wait) I might have to produce a table of aural cues to make sure everyone keeps on track.
Brian Castro text
I was pleased to receive an email from Brian Castro, granting permission to use a poem from his novel: The Garden Book in the preface.
It's difficult to explain exactly why I wanted to add this text - I wrote a piano piece a number of years back: Episode V: after Brian Castro's 'Birds of Passage' (2000), and Castro's works have always been 'hovering around' in the back of my mind. I had an idea at one stage of doing a work based around The Garden Book and had extracted all the fragments of poetry. While this project never eventuated, during the composition of the flute concerto I did find myself drawn to this one text, I guess the opening in particular struck a chord. Sometimes I don't reveal all the things going on in the background as I am writing, but in this case I am quite pleased to be able to reproduce this poem:
If only I could talk
a language that took away feeling,
one with tough tongues,
knowledge in living form,
cold as stars.
Yesterday I stripped a piece of bark
from a well-loved tree.
Yesterday was you: yesterday was love;
but it was yesterday I stripped bare.
As promised here's some of this piece, Concerto for Flute and Small Orchestra: V: Agnus Dei
Just a short report - we had the first rehearsal with a reduced ensemble (solo flute, 2 violins, c.bass, clar, & timp). It was all very encouraging - a couple of changes: some doubling dropped and we'll look at some dynamics, but it all sounded very well and was played as well as you (I) could wish - I'm now quite looking forward to the next couple of weeks.