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From Improvisation to Composition

Discussion in 'Composing' started by glenn, Nov 14, 2010.

  1. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Hello everyone. I thought this might be of interest, or at least fuel a discussion. Last year I received an orchestral commission which I completed this past summer. For a while now, I have been using piano improvisations as models for my written works. Since I have had a few discussions about improvisation and composition here at the PS, and have improvisations posted on the PS site, I thought some of you may be interested to see what I do more closely.

    I have attached three files. The first is a MIDI recording of my orchestra score, done with Sibelius. (The premiere is not till April 2011.) The second is a pdf of a piano version of that score. The third is a recording of the original piano improvisation from which the first two are derived. I would suggest downloading the piano score and then listening to the orchestra version before listening to the improvisation. There are places where I have made sizable expansions of the improvised material, so the improvisation will seem to jump over sections.

    Though I have done considerable reworking to the improvisation, it is easily recognizable as the same piece - sort of a first draft. Though the improvisation is not one of my best, it fit the commission quite well. What you cannot see is the two weeks I spent choosing the right improvisation, and the two cuts I made in the improvisation before reworking it. Still I think for those interested in composition, there is some fun here.

    The title refers to a poem by the Australian poet Kenneth Slessor. An unusually thoughtful elegy, the poem became a focal point of the work early on. The reference to Strauss's Death and Transfiguration near the end gives the piece an ironic twist. In Slessor's poem, those transformed by death are the living.

    Feel free to comment on the piece as well. I hope the files are not unmanageable. (I can't make them smaller!) Thanks.

    Glenn Stallcop
     
  2. Affinity

    Affinity New Member

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    Very insightful look into this little orchestral process. I have no idea about how to comment on the piano improvisation except that it is very well done and easily flowing, a very tightly structured piece with motivic links (whole-tone three step opening theme, dotted dissonant chords) that are not immediately obvious, but I'm quite interested in how the orchestral score gave such a different impression; it sort of highlighted the more tonal (is it more tonal? not sure) middle section as more hopeful and made the downward runs and ending more despairing. It seems more outgoing and direct than the introspective piano version. Would love to hear the premiere though.
     
  3. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thanks Affinity -

    I am glad you found it of interest. The "outgoing and direct" aspect comes from making the work more definitive. Piano music, especially improvisation, is quite personal and often introspective. Orchestral music, on the other hand, is very social - for the players as well as the audience. Even introspective orchestral music must be direct or it will flop. There was, indeed, some motivic cohesion to the improvisation which I made a point of enhancing. You make an interesting point about the changes in mood from one to the other. I "saw" the potential of the written piece in the improvisation, and did not try to capture the mood of the improvisation. The work will be premiered by the Arizona All-State High School orchestra (in April); so I was thinking about a room full of very talented teenagers when envisioning the work, trying to tap into that vast emotional potential. I use the improvisation to "draw myself out", as the structural aspect of composition comes rather easily. If I try to "build" a piece from small ideas, it becomes rather tedious, rather quickly. Using improvisation allows me to "mold" the music, like a sculptor who creates an art object from a suggestive natural medium such as wood or stone. Thanks again.

    Glenn Stallcop
     
  4. Sharma

    Sharma New Member

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    Hey, I really like it. I've played with that kind of approach myself and was very pleased with the results. I would love to hear the orchestral recording of it.
     
  5. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thanks Sharma! I am sorry, I missed your post. The performance went pretty well considering the performers were all in high school. I have the MP3 posted at the address below. The kids seemed to really like it too. You never know . . .

    Best wishes -

    Glenn

    https://www.box.net/shared/01l162h8sa
     
  6. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    Glenn,
    I enjoyed this very much. Your work was not only well-crafted, but interesting and moving too. I would gladly hear it again in a public performance. I have only one comment: three times I thought I heard some bent pitches in the brass. Was this intentional? If so, I would have recommended that it be dispensed with as foreign to the lexicon of this work; it sounded entirely out of context. If it was just the player(s), then I understand. I did not review all your files, but I will comment to say that an expert improvisor is someone who has great facility in composing in real-time, so the capture of an excellent improv for the purpose of composing is an efficient method of composing: you're just thinking faster. Of course, this approach would be more successful for through-composed forms than more stricter forms.

    Thanks for you creative effort!
    Eddy
     
  7. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thank you, Eddy. No, the "bent notes" were not intended. I think some of the horns were uncomfortable playing in close harmony. When I am improvising, I let my intuition control the form. It was something I had to allow to happen, as I was not initially convinced that the form would take care of itself. It does, however, seem to work. But when transcribing and re-scoring, I take care to enhance what I see that form to be. Some judicious cuts often help as well. A written work, I think, needs to have a clear emotional plan and some intellectual guideposts to maintain interest. Thanks again for the kind words.

    Glenn
     
  8. differencetone

    differencetone New Member

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    It sounds pro and I like it. I compose music from improvisations but I have never extracted parts from the piano part. I should try your method and see if it works for me.

    Of course we all know it would sound better with musicians playing it. I use Cubase with Vienna Symphonic Library. I've exported music into Sibelius from Cubase and the other way around. Cubase has a music score section but somehow, it's not as easy to use as Sibelius but Sibelius isn't as good for sequencing so it's best to use both. I stopped using Sibelius however when I realized that it's going to be nearly impossible to get even a small chamber orchestra to play my music or even to give it a listen. I was paying a pro cellist to record my music but that got expensive so now I'm learning cello, trumpet, and sax, already know keyboard.
     
  9. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thanks and thanks.

    It is worth trying, though you need to keep an open creative mind and not be too bound by the original.

    Your products are excellent. Never is a long time, though performances for almost everybody don't come all that often. In pitching your work, start small and amateur. Professional orchestras pay for time, so your work must be very efficient in its rehearsal needs. Amateurs are doing it for fun, so they can afford to be interested in what your are doing. Getting experience in an ensemble is essential, especially for a keyboard person. Writing for orchestra means telling each player (and the conductor) how to play each note, and that takes both patience and experience. With virtual instruments you get to tweek your balances, tone colors, and articulations and hear immediate results. Writing for an ensemble is just the same except you have to do it all beforehand, without hearing it. The virtual orchestra is extremely valuable, however, for all the really important stuff like melody, harmony, and especially timing. I wish you luck, and don't get too discouraged!

    Glenn
     

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