Note: Before you take a look at my third assignment, you can read my research regarding the flute, oboe and bassoon from part 2 of the course. Along with the listening log posts, these helped me gain knowledge about the instruments and their characteristics, which I’ve explored first in the solo compositions. More importantly, Project 8, 9 and 10 helped me develop skills that I could utilize in this piece.
The task of the assignment three is to compose a piece for three woodwind instruments in mainly polyphonic style, about 2 minutes long. The assignment guidelines describe to use the formula outlined in Example 45.
After my tutor’s feedback, I realized I’ve strayed a bit from these guidelines. Firstly, I took the formula of Example 45 in a wider context. Instead of the triads just being the triads, I made them denote tonalities that describe the sections of the piece. Though, my tutor didn’t note that this was any issue, probably because the triads are within the progression of one scale. Thus, the tonalities are also in a relationship that is like one big progression – a result of the triadic framework. However, she did mention my use of the indefinite-pitched percussion. With the misreading of the course material, I thought I could add them in. Luckily, as she remarked, the additional percussion don’t interfere that much with the woodwind polyphony. I discuss this in more detail in my reflections.
To move on, following the second part of the course, in this assignment, I once again experimented with the idea of the musical narrative, only this time in a polyphonic framework. Having more instruments meant that there was much more I could illustrate, both in terms of musical ideas and also color, which allowed me to write a segment from a fairy tale – Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen.
Here is the full score.
You can listen to the audio version below:
Note that I’ve revised the score, mostly cleaning up the mistakes and making everything clearer. I’ve addressed these places in my reflections.
The choice of instruments
The three woodwind instruments I’ve chosen are the oboe, flute and bassoon. The reason for this combination is that I think their timbres interact in interesting and complimentary ways, providing nice tonal blending and balance. As I tackled in the brief, I’ve added two indefinite-pitched percussion instruments – triangle and bass drum. While I tried not to add percussion at first, in writing a musical version of a fairy tale, I felt that I really needed a kind of orchestral treatment for this piece. This is the same reason why I put the subtitles – a symphonic miniature tale, underneath the title. Then, I also “checked” to see if this was alright for the assignment, but instead I looked at the wrong assignment guidelines (more on this in the reflections). Once again, adding the percussion did make me wonder off from the assignment guidelines, but as my tutor suggested, it doesn’t distract too much from the woodwind polyphony. Furthermore, the two are mostly used for purely ornamental reasons to achieve musical effects of the mirror in the story – its falling and breaking that produces the descending glass shards, being a kind of leitmotif.
The choice of tonality and tempo
As I mentioned in the brief, I followed the formula of Example 45 a bit loosely. Instead of using the triads as themselves, I used them as the placers of the different tonalities. Although triads aren’t distant themselves, the tonalities are, and thus, I use quite a few techniques, such transient modulations, as well as rests, to transition smoothly:
As I mentioned in the brief, despite taking them in the wider context of setting the tonalities, the triads themselves are in the progression of D minor – I – V – VI – IV. In this way, the whole piece seems to be one large progression. Though, as I stated, the tonalities are a bit distant, and with the added transitional tonalities – almost like ornaments, the progression is certainly extended. While the formula is a driving force of the piece and its progression, the formula isn’t really the driving force of the melodies. Instead, I was quite carried away by the fairytale’s narrative that served as the main framework of the melodic ideas. This slight departure from guidelines is also partly because of the fast tempo that appears in many sections – contrary to what the brief advised. Finally, beside the diatonic scales, I also use the octatonic – thus linking in the knowledge I acquired in part 2 of the course with the polyphonic skills from this part.
I use various techniques, including imitation and free polyphony. In the section where the hymn appears, I even add the descant – something the course asks us to explore in Project 9. In this way, I connect what I’ve learned in this part of the course.
The structure outline of the Segment from the Snow Queen
Section A – Goblin’s magical mirror (bars 1-10)
Adagio with accelerando. Octatonic scale in D – first triad (I in D minor), semi/whole tone version. Changing time signatures – 5/4, 4/4, 3/4 and 2/4. Dissonant polyphony.
transition – The descending glass shards (bars 11-19)
Con moto. 4/4. Fragmentary descending imitative sequence. Dissolution of tonality with consecutive major 7th chord arpeggios, reaching the dominant (E major) for the second triad (tonality).
Section B – Kay, Greta and grandmother (bars 20-35)
Allegro. A major – second triad (V in D minor), with some relative F# minor inflexions. 7/8 and 3/8 time signatures. Consonant polyphony in baroque style.
Rest (bar 36) in order to start the transition towards the third triad.
Section C – Kay and the Snow Queen (bars 37-47)
Moderato. A minor theme, a neutral transition tonality for the third triad. 2/4. Polyphonic oboe and bassoon duet in descant relationship, with staccato notes in style of Russian tradition.
Section D – Den yndigste Rose er funden (bars 48-54)
The hymn with descant – back to all three instruments. 4/4 F major – third triad (VI in D minor).
Section A1 – Mirror’s shard in Kay’s heart and eyes (bars 55-59)
Variation of the A section. D octatonic scale – dominant minor for the final triad.
Section B1 – Gerda’s worry for Kay (bars 60-66)
Variation of the B section in G minor – final triad (IV in D minor).
Section C1 – Kay and the Snow Queen (bars 67-78)
Diminution of the C section in 2/8. G minor.
Section B2 – Sleighing away (bars 79-84)
Return to B1 with some variation, closing of the piece.
In the first part of the story, the hobgoblin creates a magical mirror. However, it is made of the kind of dark magic by which all that seemed good and beautiful was transformed and distorted into bad and ugly. He then travelled the world with this mirror and finally, also wanted to show angels his invention. However, the mirror slips from his hands, being dropped from the sky, breaking on the earth.
This is why the first part of my score, section A (bas 1-10) is very dissonant. The phrases are also irregular with the changes in time signatures, from 5/4, 4/4, ¾ to 2/4. Another thing that plays into these irregularities is the polyphonic treatment, in which I often used augmentation and diminution, characterizing once again the distortion of the mirror. The dark atmosphere is not only there because of the low register of bassoon, dissonances and slower adagio, but also because of the special feeling of the octatonic scale. I have used here the semitone/tone version with the tonal center of D minor. The accelerando in bar 5, together with the bass drum, illustrates the mirror slipping away from hobgoblin’s fingers and its fall to the ground, with the triangle giving the effect of the cracking of the mirror.
Next section is a short episode or transition (bars 11-19). The crack is heard again in the motivic rhythmic figure of the triangle, this time signalizing the descending of the broken pieces of mirror’s glass, where the tonality is completely dissolved. This descent is done by the dropping slope of major 7th chords, which are minor third apart – C7 – A7 – F#7 – Eb7 (enharmonically changed from D#). The effect is also done with the high register of the flute starting this drop, supported by the minor third jumps in the oboe, then the bassoon doing an imitation of the descending major 7th chords, and finally oboe picking this up, with bassoon supporting the minor third jumps. Finally the last bit with the slower andante in E major (bars 17-19), leads us to the diatonicism and the innocent world of the little boy, Kay, and little girl, Gerda.
E major is the dominant for A major, which is the next triad – tonality of the section B (bars 20-35). The playful theme in 7/8, representing the two children playing, starts in the flute, which depicts Gerda, freely imitated by the bassoon, which depicts Kay. The oboe here may depict the grandmother who looks after them and tells them stories, but this won’t be so in the later recapitulation of this part. The whole treatment of this part is very baroque, despite starting in 7/8, the theme soon turns to 3/8. There are some inflexions to the relative F# minor, and dominant E major, and going back to A major, the first bar of the theme closes the section.
A rest (bar 36) then prepares for the neutral tonality in order to reach the third triad. Following that is section C (bars 37-47). This theme with staccato notes is contrasting the earlier sections, mostly in legato. Since it depicts Kay’s brief encounter with the Snow Queen, I decided not to add the flute, which further denotes that this section wasn’t meant to be a triad, but a transitional tonality – an ornamentation in a large tonal progression. From the thematic viewpoint though, it is an important section with a fierce melody. The main line is in the upper, oboe voice – the Snow Queen, and descant in the lower, bassoon voice. The theme is also a bit reminiscent of the Russian Classical music tradition.
C flows and links into section D (bars 48-54), where the third triad finally appears. Here, Gerda and Kay sing the Danish hymn: “Den yndigste Rose er funden” in F major, which is quoted in the fairy tale. The flute plays the actual, however, not the full, hymn tune from 48 to 51, with other two instruments creating free counterpoint above, until bar 52, where seemingly, the bassoon picks up the theme. Thus, there is a kind of descant element here. However, surprise lays ahead, as we hear the triangle (bars 53-55) – the leitmotif for the glass shard. The last ring of the triangle, together with the bass drum, shows the glass shard entering Kay’s heart and eyes.
From here, the theme is distorted, in a variated brief repetition of the deep bassoon theme in octatonic D – relative dominant of the final triad, from section A, now being perhaps section A1 (bars 54-59). This time, the dark theme with its time signature changes, having now arrived after the hymn, seems as if it is disfiguring the latter. As the hymn becomes distorted and deformed, the effect of the glass from the magic mirror upon Kay is illustrated.
The following is section B1 (bars 60-66), repeating the children’s theme in 7/8 and 3/8 from section B, however now in the g minor tonality – the third triad, which shows Gerda’s worry for Kay. Most things are repeated, including rhythm with only a slight inversion between the oboe and bassoon voices.
Right after is section C1 (bars 67-78). Now the theme is in 2/8 with forte dynamics, much faster and vicious than earlier, joined with the triangle, as the Snow Queen represents a real danger this time, before kidnapping Kay. The piece closes with section B2 (79-84) which returns to the B1 for a moment, closing the composition, as the two characters sleigh away.
In terms of articulation, the practicality concerns me a bit – I am not sure if all the parts are suited for performance the way they are written. As someone who is not a woodwind player, I can’t really know for certain. This shows how I still need to learn more about these instruments. Also, the bass drum sounds horrible in a few places. I did experiment with the playback, mixer and edit instrument menu in Sibelius, but that was the best I could come up with. I’m sure the real performance would sound much better.
In any regard, I truly gave it my all. At first I was unsure of the dissonances in the first part of the piece, since I come from a very classical background of studying Fux and other strict counterpoint books, where there are many rules to follow. But writing this piece has definitely shown, how in the end, music is about being creative. It is great to know the rules, but there are also moments when these need to be broken in order to write a distinctive piece, where this rule-breaking has its purpose
I also used the earlier elements the course directed me to explore – different time signatures, symmetrical scales and the descant, demonstrating how I connect everything I previously learned. Generally, I am quite proud of this piece, since I could use all my knowledge and combine it with new ideas. Also, some themes, like the Snow Queen’s, are rather catchy. Finally, I’ve investigated several different styles through the piece, ranging from more modern to more traditional. All in all, I believe this assignment is a great step forward for my musical abilities. With all this, I reach the penultimate part of the course. Before looking at that, you can read my reflection for the assignment, where I address my tutor’s feedback and how much I think I’ve accomplished in term of the assessment guidelines.