Posted in Assignment 3 - unit 2

Assignment 3 (original)

The task of Assignment 3 is to use the given chords to compose a short Baroque sonata for a melody instrument and keyboard accompaniment – both should be authentically Baroque. The brief specifies to include written out ornaments with specific instances of techniques covered in Part 3. A 500-word commentary should also be included, containing information about the compositional approach and an challenges that had been overcome, etc. It should also include symbols for the written out ornaments.

To begin, this is the score for my short Baroque sonata:

You can listen to the composition below:

Finally this is my commentary:

Instrumentation

I have chosen the violin and harpsichord. This is not purely because of Bach’s instrumentation in Sonata No. 4 in C minor, which has been the focus of Project 2, but also because I didn’t have a chance to write for these instruments in Composing 1, where the tasks were focused mostly on the percussion, woodwinds and piano. As such, this was a great chance to experiment with the texture of the two instruments, but also go back to violin, which is the main instrument I studied.

Structure

Upon starting this task, I realised I didn’t know what ‘Baroque sonata’ entailed. As such, before I commenced with composing, I carried out a little research and found that Bach’s Sonata No. 4 represents a form of trio sonata, with the violin playing one part, while the left and right hand on the harpsichord are separated as two to form the trio. Structurally, it is a church sonata, da chiesa, which consists of four movements, typically: slow – fast – slow – fast. This structure was first formulated by Corelli: the first movement being expressive and cantabile, the fast second being loosely fugal, while the slow, more transitional, third movement is usually dance-like (eg. sarabande and gigue) and more homophonic, and finally, the fourth constitutes another fugue that also contains dance-like figures. In this sense, the brief confused me slightly and my first consideration was whether ‘writing a Baroque sonata’ denoted a single movement or a miniature version (there are only 33 bars) of the full form. In the end, I decided to challenge myself and try to write a full form, which will still be united by the musical material.

As such, my sonata consists of 4 sections, separated with double bar lines. This, however, clashes slightly with the rehearsal markings. Though the brief didn’t mention that we have to structure the piece around them, this is something I am generally not satisfied with. Still, overall, I think I managed to structure my piece well.

Analysis

The first expressive section has many instances of suspensions in the harmony, which produce interesting moments of tension and release. The use of parallel thirds and repetition of notes was inspired by the first movement in Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in B minor. The second section is in the faster andante, and contrasts the first, although it uses the same beginning motif D-Bb-A-G in diminution as the dux. There was obviously no space to write the whole fugue, but I managed to add a tonal comes response and another dux entrance, so that all three voices participate in the imitative texture. Harmonically, however, this was incredibly difficult to achieve, and the comes blurred the harmony in bar 13. The repetitions from section one now gained a characteristic rhythmic figure, quite reminiscent of the successive homophonic chords used by Corelli and Vivaldi in the Italian concerto-style, examples of which I have included in my listening log.

I am inclined to mention here that rather than drawing purely from Bach or the Italian sources, I have combined all the styles I listened to, in order to create my own baroque ‘vocabulary’. In fact, as Neumann (1978: 42) mentions in his Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music, this is something Bach himself would do, drawing eclectically from the German, Italian and French heritage.  Moving on, the third section is dance-like in the 3/4 time-signature, being very transitional with unstable harmony, as in the standard form. It is very homophonic, with quite a contrast between the melody and the accompaniment, especially comparing to the previous two sections. It introduces new thematic material, and the dotted rhythmic pattern, which is suddenly disturbed in bars 22-23 – a moment I am quite happy about. In this very instance, the main melody also seems to rise indefinitely until the cadence. As for the final, fourth section, it leads back to 4/4 and is the most dramatic, bringing back the thirds and repetitions, all in the diminution of the upper harpsichord part in bars 1-2, which introduces peculiar effects with hockets. All in all, I am quite satisfied with the results.

Ornaments

Although in the aforementioned book Neumann writes about J. S. Bach’s use of ornaments extensively with multiple examples, arguing against C.P.E. Bach’s sources due to his connection with the galant style and treating the ornaments with a militaristic ethos that opposed his father’s practice (1978: 39-40), I think the book is too detailed and contextual to be used practically for this assignment. As such, despite being fully aware of his arguments, I decided to indeed use C.P.E. Bach’s manuscript for the ornaments after all. I have used:

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