A website devoted to teaching/playing/writing for/ the King of Instruments
Feb. 29, 2016
After you've worked a little at creative art you begin to realize after a while that you don't have to wait for lightning to strike to find your ideas. Ideas come to you and insights accrete when you simply sit down and do your work, whether you're staring at a blank canvas, a block of marble, the keys of an organ, or several blank staves of music. It's as if the creative Muse from above, where creation has its home, seems to look down on you from heaven and approves, comes to your aid, and alights on your shoulder. There are times however, when you may wake up some day with an inspiration, a thematic idea for a piece of music, and feel this overwhelming urge to get to work on it. This is more rare however and not the typical way that inspiration works; the score of Recessional in D Op. 2 is one such example of this (photo). How do you turn this idea of yours for a theme into a written composition? ... Much depends upon the length and nature of the theme, which will suggest the form best suited to it. Let's say, you've conceived your theme as a rousing hymn-like tune in simple triple time and you want to work it in 4 voice "keyboard style" throughout, without observing voice range limits. And let's say your theme consists of 4 phrases of 4 bars each, totaling 16 measures, maybe with a dotted rhythm, all in a major key. The dotted rhythm suggests that your idea might work well as a march in simple quadruple time (4/4) ... but no, it can't be a march; your theme is in simple triple time (3/4). You can still develop it as a recessional as long as the listener's mind, which seeks a steady beat, can find steady beats where the accent pattern in each bar is strong-weak-weak throughout the work. It's a bit more unusual to find a recessional in simple triple time like this, and, if you can write one that works, this makes it more valuable. NOTE: Be careful not to confuse beat type (simple or compound, which refers to how the beat divides) with meter type (duple, triple, or quadruple, which refers to how the measure divides). Simple refers to beats divisible by 2, and compound refers to beats divisible by 3. Duple, triple, and quadruple meter refers to 2, 3, and 4 beats to a bar, respectively. For example, a march with a time signature of 4/4 is written in simple quadruple time, whereas a jig fugue with a time signature of 6/8 is written in compound duple time. The first thing you need to do, if you haven't already, is either sign up with an online music writing application or download some music writing software on your notebook PC, connect it with a printer, settle upon a key signature and time signature (let's say, 3/4) for your piece, and enter your theme into a blank score. Your theme does not have to be carried in the soprano voice the entire time, or even be introduced there. You might, for example, start the 1st phrase of the theme as a single voice in the tenor, then a couple of beats later add a free bass voice, then a few beats later switch the theme to the soprano, then a couple of beats later add a free alto voice to build gradually by the 4th measure into a 4-part harmony. The next step, presuming you want the theme to continue in the top line, would be to invent a bass line for it, then fill in the 2 inner voices, harmonizing it diatonically. Next you can do some bold things here, if you want to. For example, if the top (soprano) line is carrying a hymn-like theme and you want to bring this out, the writing is instrumental only (not to be sung), and it's written in "keyboard style" without observing voice ranges, where everything in the harmony supports the top line, you can certainly extend the upper range of the top 3 lines above the bass by a few semitones. If a passage in 4 parts is polyphonic, where all the voices have equal rights, you wouldn't want to do that, of course, but in non-choral "keyboard style" passages on 2 staves where the top line reigns supreme you'll want to do everything you can to bring out that top line using all the keys of the keyboard in front of you. You now have your first (A) section, i.e. the exposition of the theme, completed. You can now decide on the form you want your piece to take, which could be done in a number of ways. Let's say, you're wanting it to be under 3 minutes in length with a reentry of the theme in the tonic key at the end, only harmonized chromatically that time. You might then consider working your piece in ternary (ABA) form with perhaps a transitional canonic or fugato passage connecting the B section with the final A section. You might consider modulating to the relative key for the B section and do something unexpected with your theme there, like presenting it in inverse movement and dividing it between the outer voices. For the transitional passage, you might consider moving to the dominant key by means of a chromatic inflection and do more unexpected things, like presenting the first half of the theme as a 2 voice canon between the outer voices, adding 2 more free voices to preserve the 4 voice texture, then modulate to the subdominant key and develop a fugato passage, building it upon only the first few notes of the theme. This transitional passage might then modulate back to the relative of the tonic key and move to the dominant chord over a dominant pedal point, which lends a sense of anticipation and additional interest. You're now ready to create the reentry of the theme (the final A section) and the coda, if any, which completes the piece. This reentry and coda could take a few unexpected and interesting turns, such as shifting notes in the melody to a different octave, chromatically altering notes in the accompaniment, maybe employing chromatic planing of 7th chords, reiterated bass figures. or suspensions. Something spicy at the end can also be tried, like lingering on a penultimate (2nd to last) dissonant chord before resolving to the tonic chord. This penultimate chord can be something unexpected, like the tonic chord with a flatted 5th AND a raised 5th, both resolving on the 5th scale degree at the same moment. A stream of chords moving in parallel motion is commonly known as "planing;" chromatic planing using dominant 7th chords, where the stream of chords rises by half steps, is particularly effective if it can be used to harmonize certain diatonic melodies. The above elements are all known to work and describes how Recessional in D Major Op. 2 was put together, starting from nothing more than a single, thematic idea. Even better things can come from your own inspiration and imagination. They all start with that single idea of yours.