Author Topic: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete  (Read 4665 times)

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Michel.R.E

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"A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« on: September 22, 2016, 11:35:36 AM »
So here is the now complete 3rd symphony.
It's titled "A War Symphony", but it shouldn't be listened to as a tone poem, or a purely descriptive piece. The subject matter and the movement titles are in a sense impressionistic.
Scattered throughout the symphony are poems by Walt Whitman on the topic of war and peace. I've rearranged some of the text, cut lines here and there, to better suit my narrative, though I don't think any of my modifications alter the actual sense of the original poetry.

The orchestration is - as per the conditions of the commission - for a reduced symphony orchestra. I was asked to avoid divisi in the strings, and to limit brass to 2 horns and 2 trumpets. I also used no auxiliary instruments in the woodwinds (I REALLY wish I could, I could have used a bass clarinet in  few spots!)

2222 / 2200 / 1 perc., 1 timp. / strings (6,5,4,3,1)
(percussion: glockenspiel, xylophone, snare drum/side drum, bass drum, tam-tam)

1) page 1 in the score
The opening movement is "Conflict", it presents most of the main thematic material of the symphony, in fractured form. Large swaths of the movement are "not quite tonal". I was actively seeking out very violent and dissonant textures (which return in the 3rd movement).

I made use of less polyharmony here, instead concentrating on layering intervals - 3rds, 4ths, 7ths. The goal, again, was to create dissonance.

The mezzo-soprano soloist has two spoken interjections at the very beginning, introducing the drums and the bugles of "War".

I - Conflict

2) page 21 in the score
The second movement is "Dirge". This is the only instance where I used the complete poem by Whitman. It develops the main theme of the symphony immediately from its opening notes.
The idea of the opening was a form of cluster writing, akin to what Ligeti does in Atmosphère, except here the goal was to keep a certain tonal quality to it, anchored harmonically between A and Eb.
I made somewhat more use of polyharmony in this movement. This gives it more of a tonal centre, but the multi-tonality keeps it still a bit insecure.

There's also a symbolic use of the bugle call "Taps" about midway through the movement (starting at measure 202, on page 30) to underscore a particular section of text. This week I added a single measure immediately following that bugle call: three slow bass drum "taps", which replace a volley of shots from rifles. There is a military tradition at lights out to play taps, followed by three soft drum "taps".

II - Dirge

3) page 40 in the score
The third movement is the Scherzo, "Confrontation". This movement represents the struggle between the search for peace and the initial conflict.
I used two techniques while writing the melodic material here.
The first is mirroring themes between two instruments, when one goes up the other goes down, etc...
The second is the layering of intervals during a passage. for example adding additional parallel lines at a specific interval down through the orchestra.
The counterpoint in this movement is considerably more demanding on the concentration of the woodwind players. Some passages are heavily syncopated.

III - Scherzo "Confrontation"

4) page 68 in the score
The last movement is "Reconciliation". Here again the mezzo-soprano soloist takes centre stage with another poem by Whitman.

The movement begins with an introduction that again makes use of cluster-like texture within a tonal context.
Three trumpet recalls of the rising 7th battle cry end the introduction. The interval has been unaltered, but the harmony beneath it supports the intervals within a tonal context.

The harmony that accompanies the mezzo-soprano's entrance is built on a short 4-chord phrase that uses rising suspensions and their resolutions. This, along with the main theme of the symphony, will be the main building block of the movement.
The scurrying woodwind arpeggios from the 2nd movement make an appearance during the soprano's solo.

The next section, marked Allegro giocoso, is a fugue built on the main theme of the symphony. Its subject is presented in two voices at once.
The impression is one of children playing, of carefree living.
The fugue ends, and a slower section, Moderato assai, begins, with a recall once more of the rising 7th war cry, and a flute solo of the main theme of the symphony.

The mezzo gets to sing the final lines of her poem, ending with "the war is over". There's a small swell on these words, but not an apotheosis. It takes time to realize the enormity of peace after war time.

Here the 4-chord harmonic motif takes the fore, and the music builds up to the climax, with bits and pieces of motifs from earlier in the symphony taking on new colours because of the altered context.

The bass instruments (bassoons, celli, contrabasses) take up the main theme under a carillon of swirling woodwinds and brass, with the strings continuing the 4-chord motif. And the music ends on a great mass of sound, loosely E major but with elements of F# major mixed in.

IV - Reconciliation

The score is more or less finished, there are still a bunch of little things I'm sure I will find. If you notice any, let me know.
« Last Edit: August 09, 2017, 12:28:59 PM by Michel.R.E »
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

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Michel.R.E

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2016, 08:50:56 AM »
I was able to sort of fake the effect of the violins in the final measures of the first movement, the harmonic glissandos.

I've altered the melody in the 2nd movement, but haven't updated the audio file yet. I'll be doing that next.

By the way, to make my life simpler, I used the new GOS solo strings that come with GPO5 for the end of the 3rd movement.
I could have gone with XSamples, but Finale is fidgety about mixing Garritan and non-garritan libraries.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2016, 10:13:07 AM by Michel.R.E »
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Periwink

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2016, 12:04:53 PM »
Again, great work. I went through the score once and found a few collisions etc. I don’t know if accidentals and accents are allowed to collide with slurs or not, I noticed a few of those also. Maybe bit of nitpicking at places.. ;D
  • m.13         CC         pp under a rest
  • m.62         CB         hairpin touches staccato
  • m.64         flute         slur collision
  • m.187      2nd violins      hairpin collides with slur
  • m.215      soprano      the bracket of the triplet doesn’t look great
  • m.220      1&2nd violins   hairpin collides with slur
  • m.240      flute         triplet number collides with slur
  • m.290      2nd violins      hairpin collision
  • m.341 - 343   2nd violins      the tremolo markings on the whole notes aren’t centred 
  • m.408      1st oboe      last beat slur collides with note
  • m.457      celli         hairpin collision
  • m.523      CC         tremolo on whole note not centred

About the ’swooshes’ in the clarinet that go over the break, at m.47 for example..
Since you’re writing for a semi pro orchestra will you always double the clarinets when you do this so you won’t hear intonation problems? I bought a cheap clarinet myself last year to get a feel for woodwind instruments, I discovered that crossing that break isn’t that much of a problem physically (for the fingers). But the intonation however is a very big problem to smoothen out.

You notated at m.95 for the high strings that the slurs on those 16th notes are optional, is this to make it easier to play? May the players decide to slur those per four 16th notes or bow them all separately?

I’m really interested in knowing how your rehearsals go; at what sections do your players experience most difficulty or maybe some parts don’t come out exactly as planned. I don’t know if you’re able to attent some rehearsals? Works like these (written for a specific group) are in some way more interesting than the pieces of music that can only be played by the super pro orchestras.
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Michel.R.E

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2016, 01:37:52 PM »
I won't e able to attend rehearsals. the performance is in Seattle and I'm on the east coast. the last time I went to Seattle for a concert it cost me well over $1000 and I was barely there for 3 days.

thanks for the notational nitpicking.

for the clarinets, at a certain point one must make abstraction of "the break". If you're playing in a non-community (ie: not student level) orchestra there should be no issue.
looking at those passages under a fine lens, the notes go by too fast for intonation to be an issue.

measure 95, the bow marking in the strings is a 2nd option.
as written without the slurs, it's a very difficult passage. it's quite fast. it's also the preferred interpretation. I gave a 2nd option if the conductor rally feels that non-slurred will be too messy. however, it's not free to choose for the players. it's an all-or-nothing situation: either ALL the strings play without the slur, or all the strings play with the slur.

The bowing must be done as written, with only the initial instance of four notes in 2nd violin being bowed in a group of four. The notes if bowed as one must be done in groups of 8.

I didn't treat the difficulty level any differently than for another work, meaning I didn't tone it down in difficulty or make any passages necessarily easier (though the bassoon parts ARE slightly easier than the other woodwind parts). I just don't really do virtuosity in general, so it's just my usual take on the material I'm using, with a bit of care taken to balance difficulty.

"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Michel.R.E

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2016, 10:05:13 AM »
And now the tedious work of part preparation begins.
As of today, Tuesday, the piano reduction of the vocal part is done, the percussion part is done, and the preliminary layouts for both flutes and oboes are done (it's just a question of fine tuning, looking for any minor glitches/collisions).

I've prepared a page of translation notes for instrument names and abbreviations, since I use French names in my scores, cues are marked with the abbreviated French names of the instruments. this page will be included with all the orchestral parts.

I'm not finding it too difficult to prepare the parts, mind you. it's tedious, but I've actually been able to put a comfortable page turn at the bottom of every single page in the parts I've done so far.

I'm also overdoing the cues a bit. I'm thinking better to include more giving secure rehearsals, than fewer with the risk of screw-ups.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Periwink

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2016, 01:11:07 PM »
For the piano reduction, do you make one for every entire movement that has the vocal part or do you only make a piano reduction of the exact measures that include the soprano line?

Good luck on the remaining work.
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Michel.R.E

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2016, 01:25:24 PM »
Thanks for the question regarding the piano reduction.

Since this isn't a lied or orchestral song per se, I decided to include only the short bits before and after the soprano's solo parts.
The exception is the 2nd movement, which has a complete reduction. There are two reasons for that: I had originally intended to allow that movement to be performed as a separate piece, thus the complete reduction.  The second being that it was already done! LOL, so I didn't actually have to do that movement, just make corrections to adjust to changes I had brought to the movement since.

In the vocal score, the 1st movement only has one page of music, the rest is bars of rest until the end of the movement. The second movement is complete (it also has considerably more vocal input, so actually requires there to be a complete reduction).
The third movement has no voice in it, so it's just a line of "tacet".
For the finale I used a couple of measures of introduction before the vocal entrance, then a measure or two after the solo was finished. Then a series of rests until the next vocal entrance.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Michel.R.E

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2016, 04:00:44 PM »
My work on the orchestral parts advances slowly but surely. This is a pretty long piece: a performance lasts around half an hour, and the score is around 100 pages long.

Thankfully it's not a huge orchestra.

So far, I have the parts done for both flutes, both oboes, both clarinets, timpani, percussion, and the vocal score.
I have two bassoons left to complete woodwinds, then the two horns and two trumpets before attacking the worst part: the strings.

I've been able to put a page turn at the bottom of every single page so far, which is great because then it really doesn't matter if a page is even or odd, there's always a page turn at the bottom.
With the string parts I suspect I am going to have a LOT more trouble getting page turns onto every single page.

Because I write my scores in French, I have to include a page of explanations for some of the terminology I used in the score, meaning that I have a single page just before the music starts, with the French words, the French abbreviations, and the English translations.

This means that my string parts MUST start on the right hand page (odd number page).

And this is why I hate preparing orchestral parts.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Michel.R.E

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2016, 07:00:46 PM »
I had to go into town today, and had uploaded the audio of my symphony to my Walkman. I noticed that the sound was terribly unbalanced, with some instruments sounding way too loudly and others almost silent.

I don't understand why it sounded this way. When I play the audio files on my computer (with headphones) it sounds perfectly balanced.

Anyway, I will try to make new recordings and get them better balanced.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

saltamontes

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2016, 03:15:11 AM »
This is really nice work, Michel.  I am humbled by your expertise and dedication to completing work of this quality and magnitude. 
Hold gently the hearts of those you love. For once they are gone, you will shed a thousand tears for each one you caused and the memory of each callous moment will be your companion.   Saltamontes

tbmartin

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2016, 04:11:53 AM »

Because I write my scores in French, I have to include a page of explanations for some of the terminology I used in the score, meaning that I have a single page just before the music starts, with the French words, the French abbreviations, and the English translations.

This means that my string parts MUST start on the right hand page (odd number page).

... Would putting this on the firsr page work?: "Please see page 10 for a translation and abbreviations of the French terms used."
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Michel.R.E

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2016, 04:39:03 AM »
First of all, thank-you Saltamontes.


Terence, yes, that COULD be an option, thank-you for suggesting it.
Generally speaking, parts SHOULD start on the right hand (odd numbered) page. But I've had parts where I was really forced - due to a lack of viable page turns - to start on the left hand (even numbered) page. I believe my 4th symphony (the Symphony for strings) has both violin parts starting on the left hand page.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

sandalwood

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2016, 01:26:21 PM »
I had to go into town today, and had uploaded the audio of my symphony to my Walkman. I noticed that the sound was terribly unbalanced, with some instruments sounding way too loudly and others almost silent.

I don't understand why it sounded this way. When I play the audio files on my computer (with headphones) it sounds perfectly balanced.

Anyway, I will try to make new recordings and get them better balanced.

So, is it a different set of headphones or somehow the car audio speakers that now make the music sound so different? That is a chronic source of annoyance for me, too.

By the way, I have listened to the whole work in a row a couple of times since posting and my conviction  is even strengthened that it is a substantial work and deserves being heard by large audiences.

Michel.R.E

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #13 on: September 29, 2016, 01:46:30 PM »
it's with headphones (I have to take a long bus ride into the city, I don't drive), however it's not the same headphones I use at my computer. I suspect that it MIGHT be something to do with my Walkman.

I'm still trying to readjust the volume levels.

It seems that Finale 25 has equalized the various volumes a bit better than earlier versions of Finale when it comes to audio.

And thank-you very much Reha, I'm really happy you enjoy the symphony.
To be honest, I wasn't sure *I* would like it at first.
I wanted to, and at the same did not want to, start this work. Since I was incorporating material from a much much earlier work (from nearly 20 years ago) it felt a bit like stagnating.
But I think I let the material grow considerably, in essence, it is no longer the same material since I'm seeing it through an extra 20 years of experience.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

saltamontes

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Re: "A War Symphony" (Symphony no.3) complete
« Reply #14 on: September 29, 2016, 01:52:42 PM »
I have been using a set of Bose travel headphones for four years and find them to be exceptional in true sound.  They are very compact and light weight and fit nicely into a small carrying case.  I use them so often that the ear pads need replacing about every two years and that is easily done by ordering replacements direct from Bose.  The only downside to these headphones is the cost, about $150 USD four years ago.
Hold gently the hearts of those you love. For once they are gone, you will shed a thousand tears for each one you caused and the memory of each callous moment will be your companion.   Saltamontes