Note: Before you take a look at my final assignment piece, you can read my research regarding the genre of Nocturnes and the cyclic chord progression. There’s also an older research I did for Assignment 4 about the form of fantasy. Furthermore, all the research posts for Project 13 and Project 14 were involved in shaping my piece, especially in terms of the harmonic content and progressions.
The final assignment of the course is about composing an extended piece of around three minutes, utilizing the cyclic chord progression at least four times, avoiding the final effect of the perfect cadence until the very ending of the piece. Following this brief, I decided to compose a lyrical and expressive Nocturne, where I blur the lines of harmony throughout the piece, giving it a more fantastical form and structure. This is the reason why the piece is named Nocturne-Fantasie. The composition is monothematic, which allowed me to play with variation and development. It is also the first abstract piece I wrote for the course, not following any specific narrative.
Click here to see the full score of the piece.
You can listen to it below:
Note that I have changed my score a bit, but this is only in terms of making clearer aesthetics, and adding the sempre flessible expression and circa for tempo, suggested by my tutor to give more freedom to the performer.
The choice of instruments
I came to a decision to follow the tradition of the piano nocturnes. Piano is an instrument which I’ve been playing for several years now, but I’ve never paid much attention to the way the things are notated. I’ve already composed several pieces for the instrument by playing and improvising, but never notated them, so this was a great opportunity to introduce me to the ways of doing that. In fact, this was my process, I composed the whole Nocturne-Fantasie on the piano first and afterwards notated and regulated many of the sections of the composition. The only problem is that my keyboard here only has the half-sustaining pedal, and so some of the thing I wanted to play I couldn’t completely try. In general, in terms of the instrument, notating the pedals was the biggest challenge for me.
The choice of tempo and time signature
The starting tempo is larghetto, which I didn’t utilize before. I chose to try it, since some of my favorite pieces use it. I also think this tempo is a great way to beginning an expressive piece like mine, especially since I constantly shift in speed, as it allowed me to reach both the slower largo and grave, and the faster andante and allegro. The prevalent time signature is 3/4, but I there are a few instances where I change to 2/4, 4/8 and 3/8. Because of the changes in tempo and time signatures, there is quite an improvisational feeling to the piece, in style reminiscent of the Romanticism and Impressionism. Another thing is that the silence plays a big part in the piece, which is why there are many rests and fermatas
Tonality and harmony
In terms of tonality, I use Bb major. Harmonically, it’s not so easy to analyze the piece. There are a lot of 7th chords and many added tones to the chords in general. Many of the chord progressions have irregular resolutions and I use a lot of secondary dominants. This all aids me to blur the form of the piece. Although there are some modulations, these are quite deceptive and harmonically actually serve as progressions instead
Once again, the biggest challenge was the pedaling. I tried to be as specific as possible regarding the expression and dynamics. For the tempo though, I included the metronome marks only because of Sibelius. For the actual performance I would definitely remove these, particularly because it’s supposed to be expressive and almost improvisational. Finally, I think the notation is generally clear. The only problem I had was notating the held notes for the arpeggio figures. However, I managed to find Clementi’s preludes, where there was a short piece where the similar figures appear.
The structure of the Nocturne-Fantasie
It’s quite difficult to write the structure for the piece, especially since I blur the harmony. Here is the attempt to outline the form, I have included the count of four cyclic progressions as well:
Theme (bars 1-14):
I 7 (first cycle) – vii 7 – secondary vii 7 for vi – V – secondary vii 7 for vi – V7 for vi – IV – V7 – I 6/4 (second cycle) – IV7 – iii7 – secondary V or vii for V (modal)
Development (bars 15-64):
I 6/4 (third cycle) – vii 6/4/2 – secondary V for vi – IV
(subdominant region) Eb: I IV (pedal)
(dominant region) F: secondary V and vii for V – I – V – secondary vii7 for vi – V – vii 7
c: V – i – i 6/5
F: V (modal) – vii
I (fourth cycle) – secondary V for IV – Naepolitan 7th – I
As can be seen from the above, the piece starts with a theme (bars 1-14) – a long 14-bar sentence. It not only establishes the expressive atmosphere, notated as espressivo molto, but also the improvisational character of the composition, through the use of ritenuto, accelerando, and the changes in tempo, including the silence. Although it is mainly homophonic, there is a bit of counterpoint used, mostly in the left hand, which repeats the ideas of the right – for example bar 4, and bar 11 and 12. Once again, I struggled a bit with the notation of the held arpeggios in the left hand, but this is the closest thing I found to the effect I wanted. In Clementi’s preludes though, the vertical distance between the staff lines was larger, so the pauses weren’t as squished together. I didn’t find any way to regulate this in Sibelius.
In the theme, we also see the use of the irregular resolutions and secondary dominants, which postpone the cadence. By the end of the sentence, the harmony is more abstract, reaching another irregular resolution at the beginning of the development section. The resolution is more of a deceit, since it is the second inversion of the tonic. The development begins with a short repetition of the theme (bars 15-16) for two bars, though the chords are in their inversion now. In the next part I play more with the counterpoint. Although this counterpoint subsection (bars 17-22) seems to be a new theme because of no pedals, new time signatures, the feroce e marcato expression and forte dynamics, but it is actually based on the variation and development of the D – Eb – C – A motif from the theme (bar 2 and 3). The espressivo molto figures (bars 23-27) then reappear, however, this time in the subdominant key – Eb. Before reaching the tonic though, the transition to F major (bars 28-29) harmonies intersects, repeating the arpeggiated notes from the theme (bars 5-6).
Next in the development is the soft, dolcissimo, Grave section (bars 30-35) with very silent tremolos in the right hand. This is the development and variation of the adagietto part in the theme (bars 7-8). Instead of going back to Bb, c minor suddenly appears. It is the second feroce e marcato variation (bars 38-43) in allegretto without pedals, however, this time not as contrapuntal. It leads into another development of the last two bars (bars 44-60) from the theme and the pedals return. It is very modal sounding, but not out of place, as it’s exploiting further the harmonic ideas from the theme’s last two bars. Finally there is a retransition (bars 61-64) on the V7 of the Bb major, leading into the coda. At this point, it seems apparentmthat the whole modulatory keys actually serve as a large harmonic progression Eb – F – c – F – Bb.
Coda (bars 65-78) is the most straightforward in terms of harmony. Note that I have notated B double flat because I wanted to have Neapolitan 7th chord. I chose a very high register, since the theme and the development, especially the part before the retransition, go quite low. This is not only in terms of contrast, but also providing a new timbral effect and closure to the piece. The theme is now faster, even accelerating a bit, before being lost with the perdendosi and decrescendo.
I think this piece demonstrates how much I have learned during the course, both in terms of notation and also composing in general. It helped that I actually played it first, since I didn’t have to worry that much whether or not a performer would be able to perform it or not. This though proves that I still have a lot to learn in terms of instruments and orchestration, but I think I’m on the right track and my knowledge has been improving every step during the course.
It was also interesting that I played with silence as a part of the musical piece. All my other compositions rarely use it. This opens up new possibilities which I look forward to exploring. Learning from the previous projects in the 5th part of the course, I believe I succeeded in making an interesting development of the theme, which I feel was not as efficient in the previous assignments. I also liked the blurring of the harmonic lines, which resulted in a peculiar form of the piece.
Overall, I am quite satisfied with the Nocturne-Fantasie. It proves how much the course encouraged me to try new things and develop new ideas, which I can’t wait to inspect in the future modules. I also feel like I’ve added a lot of new elements to my musical language, while also revisiting the old techniques of harmony, counterpoint, melody and rhythm I previously studied. The experimentation with these old and new skills shaped my compositional abilities into a unique development of my own style. With this, I finished the course, ready for a new chapter in my musical journey. Lastly, you can read my reflection on this piece, which includes the feedback by my tutor, as well as the general assessment guidelines and my opinion on how I fulfilled them.