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Music By Members => Works in Progress: Senior => Topic started by: RJB54 on April 13, 2019, 07:40:43 AM

Title: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 13, 2019, 07:40:43 AM
I would like to present my String Sextet #3.

Only the first movement so far. I'll post the remaining movements as I finish the engraving.

Score = (
Audio-Mvt I = (
Audio-Mvt II = (
Audio-Mvt III = (
Audio-Mvt IV = (

Don't get freaked out by the lengths of the MP3s. The free software I use to generate the MP3s (WinLAME) has had an upgrade and ever since I installed the upgrade WinLAME marks the times of the MP3s it generates as longer (sometimes MUCH longer) than the actual length. For example, the WAV file Finale generates for the first movement of this piece is 7:44 in length. The MP3 that WinLAME generates is stamped as being 35:33 in length but it really isn't. The actual length when played is the same as the WAV file. It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to fix this bug. If they don't do it promptly, I'll have to find another freeware program to use.

This piece will be in five movements which are in an arch relationship: slow/scherzo/sonata/scherzo/slow. The relationships can also be seen in parallels between the movements. For example, both scherzos have a quiet and subdued scherzo section with a loud, active, trio; while the first and last movements are emotional slow movements.

There is a musical thread which weaves its way throughout the piece. This thread (theme) is presented by the 1st Violin at the beginning of the 1st movement. Motives from this theme (especially the opening figure) appear throughout all of the movements.

While I don't do program music, one can see from the tempo indications below that there is an emotive thread running though the piece.

Mvt. I  : Grave doloroso - Adagio contemplativa ma dolente - Grave doloroso
Mvt. II : Allegro spettrale - Allegro bellicose - Allegro spettrale
Mvt. III: Allegro bruscamente e irato - Allegro contenuta e contemplativa
Mvt. IV : Allegro misterioso e macabro - Allegro ritmico e intensita - Allegro misterioso e macabro
Mvt. V  : Grave doloroso - Adagissimo pacificamente e con calore

In the 1st movement we start off in great mourning then try to come to terms with the tragedy (whatever it was) but can't completly shake the sadness and so return to our mourning.

In the 2nd movement (the 1st scherzo) we are in an unsettled, ghostly, ephemeral, emotional state which is interrupted by belligerent anger railing against the tragedy, but, of course, that accomplishes nothing and we return to the ghostly state.

In the 3rd movement (sonata form) we are again in the angry emotional state (1st theme) but sometimes ease into a more subdued, contemplative, state (2nd theme) which is always interrupted by the anger and denial.

In the 4th movement (the 2nd scherzo) we are again in an unsettled, ephemeral, mysterious, and macabre emotional state which is again interrupted by anger and denial which, again, accomplishes nothing and we return the mysterious state.

In the 5th movement we are again in our mourning state but before the end we achieve some sense of acceptance and peace.

As in other pieces I have posted which use strings, there are some passages which do not sound correct as these passages make use of techniques which the Finale sound libraries do not support such as sul tasto, sul ponticello, and the Bartok pizzicato.

Originally, the first movement was going to be a slow fugue and some remnant of that idea is still discernible especially at the begining where we see the remains of a fugal exposition; however, the music didn't want to be a fugue and decided to go in another direction. The result is a slow movement in a standard A-B-A1 layout.

At the beginning of this movement one can see another example of my unconventional approach to serialism. The opening in the two violins is strictly serial with each violin initially presenting different transpositions of the same row. The emphasis placed on certain pitches of the row rhythmically/melodically makes it unequivocal that the 1st violin is arpeggiating a Bb Major chord in 1st inversion while the 2nd violin is arpeggiating an F Major chord in first inversion. The counterpoint between them is handled in such a way that the chromatics feel like nonharmonic tones which mostly 'resolve' in a fairly common-practice manner. So, the first 11 bars are pretty clearly operating in a sort of Bb Major even though it is presenting the pitches of the rows in a strictly serial manner. The Bb environment and fugal character is re-enforced by the entry of the 1st Viola and 1st Cello as they also arpeggiate Bb and F chords, respectively. However, from that point on as additional lines enter in the various instruments, the environment becomes increasingly chromatic and, thus, less clearly common-practice. But, through the first 21 bars the counterpoint still tends to mostly result in vertical coincidences which generally have a common-practice character (albeit without any common-practice chord progressions) even though all of the instruments are presenting their respective rows in a strict manner.

This semi-common-practice harmonic language can also be seen in the final cadence. The penultimate chord presents the last six pitches of a given row which spells a C#m11 chord. However, to add to the sort of dominant feel of the chord it is voiced with the 11th in the bass which adds to the incipit feel of a need for a resolution. The way the chord is voiced you could also view it as a polychord with the bottom three notes presenting a B Major triad while the top three notes present a C# Minor triad. This chord resolves to the first six pitches of that row which presents a clear Gm11 chord. So, again, this is a strict serial presentation of a row which is handled in a way which results in common-practice chords (albeit expanded common-practice, after all you won't find 11th chords in Beethoven or Mozart) and another of my disguised, sort of, common-practice dominant to tonic chord resolutions.
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: Michel.R.E on April 13, 2019, 11:06:56 AM
There are a few bowing issues.
just to give one example (and this is something that you only really learn while either playing a string instrument or working intimately with string players, so it's not that easy to learn):

violin 2, measure 6
The bow is uneven.
Meaning that there's a very long bow required for the first five notes (I'm including ties as "the same note"), then suddenly two eighths in a bow, and then the next measure is all done in one bow.

Think of the distance your bow has to travel, from frog to tip (usually, beat one will be played down-bow, so starting from the frog, in French: au talon). Two long bows with a very short bow between them is an invitation to disaster. the bow doesn't have enough room to play both long phrases, because the brief phrase between didn't leave enough time to recuperate bow length.

This measure, I'd suggest rather something like:
- down on beat 1, cover the triplet with one down bow
- then the quarter note tied to an eighth with one up bow
- the lone F# eighth a very short down bow
- then the last two eighths as a longer heavier up bow (also letting the musicians put more weight on their bows for that crescendo).

if you look at the distance covered, there were two short spots in there to recuperate bow length and give yourself room to reach the end of the phrase at the correct part of the bow (near the frog, for the heaviest effect).

Measure 7 then remains perfectly placed for a down bow, the whole thing, and a diminuendo toward the tip ( la pointe) where the least bow pressure can be assured with more control.

GENERALLY speaking (I emphasize the "generally"), beat one of any measure is played down bow, meaning you either want a rest before that, or a phrase ending in an up-bow.
Under specific circumstances, you might want to start a phrase with an up-bow (for example, starting dal niente).

When writing for strings, it's always a good thing to take these things into consideration. Inserting bow markings takes time (this is usually the concert master's job), and if you can make it so that bowing is obvious and logical, then that is far less work, and also makes for easier rehearsals, and musicians more conducive to wanting to play the music.

One other important thing to remember: a change of bow doesn't necessarily mean a cut in the sound. As an example, Sam Barber's Adagio for Strings has ridiculously long phrases, absolutely unplayable "as written".
Some orchestras make the bowings interlock (ie: part of the musicians changing bows on odd notes, while the other part change bows on even notes).
However, it is possible to have the entire section change bow directions at the same moment without creating any sort of accent or emphasis on that directional change. At least, with good musicians it is.

Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 15, 2019, 07:57:51 AM
OK, thanks.

I'll address those issues as I continue with the engraving of the rest of the piece.
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on April 15, 2019, 11:11:43 AM
As always, your approach to harmony fascinates me and the sound is always interesting. And the structure of the piece is effective and satisfying.
I see from the score that there's a lot of movement going on within. I don't know whether it's a limitation of the software, but I don't hear a lot of that movement, the result being more a blend of sound.
The volume of the first violin also seems a little weak to me.
Should I assume that these would be addressed in a live performance with subtle dynamic variations?
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 15, 2019, 06:57:14 PM
Jerry, I would assume that the issues you are referring to would not be a problem in a live performance.

As I've said a number of times I find many aspects of Finale's performances to be lacking.

As I have also said before, I don't have the time, patience, or money to get into post-Finale sound processing so what I post is what Finale generates, for good or ill (often ill).
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: Michel.R.E on April 16, 2019, 07:53:01 AM
some of the doublestop work in the violin parts will be awkward or problematic.
remember that going from an interval smaller than a 5th to one larger than a 5th (or vice-versa) requires a significant shift in hand position.

at measure 19, the G/E (beat 2) will require the higher note be taken on the lower string, so that will have to be notated in the score.
The fingering in measure 20 will be awkward.

In general, good string writing manages to place single notes (ie: no double-stopped) between changes of hand position, such as those required to skip back and forth between a 3rd and a 6th.

the most comfortable hand position, and the most natural, is where the 1st finger (index) is on the lowest string, while the 4th finger is on the highest string. This fits the natural curvature of the hand.

doing the opposite places the 4th finger stretched across strings (and the 1st finger compressed against the hand), adding the risk of hitting one of those lower strings with the hand. it gives a very confined space within the hand to finger the strings.

for example, a chord made up up stacked 6ths is very easy to play.
A chord made of stacked 3rds is nigh impossible without the inclusion of some open strings.

So basically, rapid shifting of hand position, back and forth between smaller and larger intervals, is not idiomatic, nor comfortable, on a string instrument.
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 16, 2019, 10:04:18 AM
OK, thanks for the info. I'll have to keep these sorts of issues nearer the top my stack as I work on string things.
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 18, 2019, 06:06:12 AM

Having had some time to look into what you were saying, I see your point about the double stops in bar 19. In this instance it was a brain freeze on my part where I actually had a B where I was thinking I had an A (open string) which messed up the whole sequence of double stops. I had to change the whole bar because the note must be B to match the row. I'll have to go through all of the double stop passages once again to make sure I didn't make such mistakes elsewhere.

As for the concept of the hand positions, I do tend to not keep that in mind when I'm planning out double stop passages. I guess I tend to just plot out the available notes to fingers and don't really worry about the finger movements like I should. I'll have to be better about that.

A question in that vein. If you have a passage such as A over B moving to F# over D, my thinking is that that would not be difficult in that the A would be played by the third finger on the E string while the B would be played by the first finger on the A string and then the F# would be played by the first finger on the E string and the D would be played by the third finger on the A string. Thus, the player would just be moving the fingers back and forth between the A and E strings and that would be no big deal. Am I wrong?
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: Michel.R.E on April 18, 2019, 07:18:06 AM
if you don't want a continuous sound, then the fingering you describe (where the fingers change strings), then it's playable.
But remember that to lift one finger you have to have that fraction of a second of time to move it to the new string, and during that time neither of the two strings are being stopped.
remember that during this, the bow is moving along the string, creating the sound.

ok, pulling out my viola, I just checked what I THINK are the notes you asked about.

the lower B, and the subsequent F# have to be barred with the 1st finger. (ie: both strings depressed simultaneously by the same finger). the problem is the D and G also have to be barred with the same finger.
It's difficult to visualize, but you have to take into consideration the notes both vertically, AND horizontally to figure out the fingering.
If you don't want the A and F# to be played legato, then you might have time to change fingers when the bow stops between the first pair of notes and the second.
If you want the notes played legato, it's simply not playable.

Just remember this: the same finger can skip to a DIFFERENT string with a break in the sound, but it can slide to a new position on the SAME string with nothing more than a tiny portamento.

The safest bet for the example passage you ask about in this post is to remove the lower note of the 2nd pair (D), then it becomes perfectly playable. OR, hold that low B through A-F# above.

This is one of those instances where strictly adhering to the compositional rules of your system is going to cause you problems, it WILL limit how you write for strings. You'll have to find some other way of including that lower D if it is absolutely required by your tone row, fit it into the notes of one of the other instruments.

That said, I'm looking back at the score and wonder why you don't just give that B (from 2nd violin) to the 2nd viola
(it would be a barred 5th, played with one finger: B over E, probably a bit insecure for intonation depending on the quality of the musicians, but let's assume pros, then it shouldn't be an issue),
having the 2nd violin NOT play any double stops at all, just have violin 2 play G# - E - E - G# - G# - G#

ignore the fact that you have a rest in all parts except the violins on the last half beat. if that B (now in viola 2) cuts out for a half a beat it REALLY won't show.

Note: ok, this response has been allover the place mostly because I just woke up and responded to your hypothetical before going back to the actual score. but the answers should all be right.
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 18, 2019, 08:06:01 AM
Thanks for your detailed response.
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 19, 2019, 03:57:54 PM
In the OP I have posted the audio for the 1st and 2nd movements as well as an updated score.

I have updated the 1st movement based upon Michel's comments. It wasn't easy to deal with the double stop issues. That's one of the difficulties when writing music based upon pitch collections of specific content. I ended up having to modify both violin parts as well as both viola parts (even though they didn't have any double stops) in order to get all of the pitches of the given pitch collections presented as needed.

The 2nd movement is a scherzo. It has a layout of A-A1-B-A2-Coda. To add to the unsettled feeling referred to in the OP, the meter in the A sections frequently shift so that the listener is never quite sure where the beat is. Motives are presented and then get twisted as the meter changes under them. In addition, the phrase lengths in the various instruments often don't coincide and they start and stop at different times adding to the kaladescopic, unsettled, effect.
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 24, 2019, 08:48:37 AM
In the OP I have added the audio for the 3rd movement as well as an updated score.

The 3rd movement is in sonata form without a repeat of the exposition, though the development starts off as if it was going to be a repeat. Other than that I think this movement is pretty straight forward.
Title: Re: String_Sextet_03
Post by: RJB54 on April 25, 2019, 04:32:53 PM
In the OP I have added the audio for the 4th movement as well as an updated score.

The 4th movement, like the 2nd movement, is a scherzo. It also has a similar layout of A-A1-B-A2-Coda.

Like the 1st scherzo, I add to the unsettled feeling of the sound by creating a metric/rhythmic environment which feels a little off. In this case the effect was created by having a single asymmetrical meter of 11/8 which creates a feel which one expects to be a symmetrical 12/8 but ends up sounding sort of lopsided. To further increase the metric ambiguity, the phrases for the various melodies differ between instruments and, aside from a pizzicato 'bass' line, none of the instrumental lines consistently stress the prevailing 11/8 subdivision (which is 3-2-3-3). All of this creates a floating metric feel where, again like the 1st scherzo, the listener is frequently unsure just where the beat is leaving them suspended in midair.