Sunday, August 2, 2009

composing a piece in 60 minutes...

Today I responded to a composition challenge presented by New Music Hartford. The challenge was to compose a piece in 60 minutes. Several choices for instrumentation (solo flute, solo cello, flute & cello, electric guitar, 2-channel tape, and a quartet I can't remember the instrumentation for. These options were revealed at 3pm EDT, and a finished composition had to be emailed off by 4pm EDT. In a few weeks, the performers will rehearse each work for 60 minutes, then present these pieces in concert.

I started a similar tradition at Georgia State University called "Instant Music." For that project, composer drew names of performers out of a hat, then wrote pieces for these ad hoc ensembles. We had a full 24 hours to write and rehearse our piece - of if only I had that luxury today!

I had a few ideas in mind before the contest began, just to help myself along. I decided to use a tone row, to help me make decisions more quickly. I also decided to base my form on a sonnet. I would have 14 short sections - 4-5 bars each - and would reflect the sonnet's rhyme scheme (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG) through repetition.

I went with flute and cello duo - it seemed the best combination of interest and manageability. I sketched out my form (again, each section was to last 4-5 bars):

A - florid flute line, cello drones
B - declamatory cello line, flute tremolo
A - repeat A
B - repeat B

C - contrapuntal, similar rhythms
D - passing off short phrases
C - repeat C
D - repeat D

E - melody in tight harmony (3rds, etc.)
F - tremolo, creating static chords
E - repeat E
F - repeat F

G - long tones, fading away
G - repeat G

Despite all this repetition, I only finished through D. In all, the piece is 36 bars, which means I actually only wrote 18 bars! I think what slowed me down was that I had my 12-tone matrix on the computer, so I had to keep going back and forth on the screen. I am wondering if I had taken 2 minutes to write it on paper, if that would have helped me in the long run. Possibly.

Perhaps my initial outline was too ambitious. In the end, I have a sort of binary form, which would somewhat work if I had made D feel more like an ending. As it is, it just kind of stops.

In the end, I feel that while this piece is kind of crap, I definitely have the outline for a decent piece. Maybe I'll spend another hour on it someday.

If you're that bored/curious:


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