Posted in Reflections on Assignments 1-5

Reflection on Assignment 3 feedback

This is a reflective account on the tutor feedback for my Assignment 3 submission. I believe the commentary in this feedback has been very assuring in terms of more positive aspects of my assignment, but also very useful and constructive in terms of things I overlooked and wasn’t able to achieve.

In terms of the assignment sonata itself, my tutor outlined that “ornaments are well-considered and effective, with a good range of ideas shown. Your commentary explains your reasons for choosing the instruments clearly, and your knowledge of the violin is conveyed in your writing for it, particularly the double stops. You also show that you have drawn on your research in the composition of your piece, and considered a range of different approaches.” This was fantastic to hear – especially how my research, including the one on ornamentation, translated into the writing and how there is a range of different approaches in my sonata.

In the light of the above, my tutor indicates that my “choice of instruments is idiomatic and shows an understanding of the era” and that I “have used violin double stops effectively, and also included some phrase marks to help define the melodic line.” Overall, the feedback noted how the “violin part is generally quite well handled in terms of melody” several times – this was great to hear as violin is the instrument I played the longest, so I’m glad to hear my writing demonstrated my familiarity with the instrument. Moreover, the feedback also mentions that the “harpsichord accompaniment is relatively idiomatic, and the opening of your piece is reminiscent of Bach’s Italian Concerto.” Again, this is very encouraging to hear, especially since I have a real appreciation for Baroque keyboard music and have played through multiple pieces in the past, as well as more recently.

On that note, however, my tutor noted that “it is unusual to see such detailed dynamics within the baroque era; it was common for composers to write in dynamic markings that went against acknowledged conventions, but crescendos and diminuendos were rarely marked, and the ‘hairpin’ sign was never used. Dynamics were often created through the use of texture and (to an extent) register, and also key (especially in wind instruments which were not completely chromatically even).” These concerns about dynamics are actually all the things I was aware of and taught about in my previous studies – I have played through countless baroque pieces and wrote two- and three- part inventions and three part fugues.

In this context, as students, we were always asked to not use dynamic markings and most editions I used for performance rarely provided dynamic markings for Baroque pieces. However, for this OCA unit, I went by a past feedback I received for my Assignment 1 for the Composing 1 unit, where my tutor stated that while I “have also given some clear dynamic instructions, but perhaps more detail in terms of crescendos and diminuendos might help to give more impact to the dynamics.” Therefore, I was rather guided by this advice from the previous unit, rather than think about the stylistic concerns that is the main focus of the current unit. While I believe it is good to carry over certain things to show the progress throughout the course, this yet again reminded me to always check the particular unit’s requirements – something my reflection on Assignment 2 for Stylistic Techniques also mentioned.

Next, my tutor explained that “there are occasional moments of awkwardness where the sense of line and voice leading is lost” mostly because of the violin and harpsichord parts “sharing the same pitches… [which] impacts on the clarity of the harmony”. Personally I actually really liked this effect of the parts crossing over – however, I completely understand it isn’t too stylistically appropriate and that the clarity of melodic lines and harmony has been weaken for this reason. It is also important to note that due to the time constraint (which was a little more than a week to finish this piece and go through the whole Part 3 of the unit), I was composing more intuitively for the sake of speed, rather than have time to fully think about each sections and consider different elements more carefully. This resulted in the harmony being “not always 100%
. For example, “the E flat at the end of bar 10 gives a strong sense of key which is disrupted (without preparation) by the E natural at the beginning of the following bar. There is also some confusion of key with the violin entry in bar 12, which is in a different key from the harpsichord, and despite the imitation, doesn’t connect enough with the other lines.”

At any rate, due to the time pressure, I have missed a lot of mistakes – such as the parallel fifth “between the A/G of the left hand and the E/D of the right hand and violin”. Although I have to mention here that the parallel fifths can be found in Bach’s instrumental pieces too – for example there are two places in his WTC II F-sharp Major Prelude (bar 27 and 52 arising from ornamentation) or D major Prelude (more directly in bar ). I have also encountered more examples with my former teachers when analyzing different compositions, which is why they never insisted on this being a huge issues in instrumental writing in comparison to the vocal writing. However, I do agree with my tutor’s advice to “keep an eye out for these traditional rules of harmony, as they can be applied within this context too to help create a stronger sense of progression.” Thereby, I think this particular instant truly impacted the clarity of the harmony and weakened its general effect.

Another thing I missed is a seventh leap – which is “less common”. In fact, I have only encountered seventh leap as a kind of registral jump in the Baroque era, with the melody continuing from this point step-wise. Regrettably, the instance of my seventh leap hasn’t been used in this context and as such sharply contrasts the style of the period. However, despite all this, it was great to hear that my tutor managed to find “some strong moments of harmony which are highly effective, or example some of the writing in bars 4 and 5 work very well”, as well as “the cadence at the end of the section [Andante] is effective, with a good use of ornamentation.”

With that said, it was also encouraging to hear that my “choice of form is ambitious and on the whole works well, even though the sections are necessarily short.” Yet as she further denotes, the form I chose meant stuffing in a lot of material into a small space, which didn’t allow for the development of each idea: “In places I would like to have seen the ideas developed more fully over a longer duration (as developing material is in some ways more challenging than coming up with initial ideas).” Still, she points out how I have demonstrated “a variety of techniques, and created some coherence between the sections.” Taking from these and many other of my tutor’s advices, including the moments of “static writing” and places where the harmony “doesn’t quite deliver”, I believe I have made good corrections, especially in terms of the violin and harpsichord “covering each other”. These can be found here.

Finally, due to the time restraints, I didn’t managed to complete all posts for the learning log in this part of the course. In this sense, I was rather surprised to hear that there is some “extensive research”, such as my post on the ancient tuning systems, where “there is already some detailed work there”. Nonetheless, the language was again observed to be “dense and technical” and how “certain terms might benefit from a greater explanation to demonstrate that you really understand their true meaning, as well as to make your communication more clear for the reader.” I am truly trying hard to work on this, but it is indeed difficult when I’ve been conditioned the past few years to write in this style. At any rate, due to the lack of time, I have indeed not referenced properly – as the feedback remarks “it is vital that you include these before assessment”. **Edit slightly before my deferred assessment submission – these have since been added, it is only due to the time limitation that I haven’t been able to do so.

In terms of the blog menus, I was puzzled to hear they “are sometimes a little fiddly; they disappear if the mouse moves to slightly the wrong place on the screen, which can be slow and fiddly.” I have tried resolving this issue, however, I don’t experience the same issue neither on my phone, tablet, lap top or PC, so I am really confused what to do on my part. As such, for now, I have left it as it is, but I will look into changing the theme of the blog to hopefully solve this problem.

Finally, as for my listening log, the feedback comments that I have “included some good observations on Italian style works by Corelli and Vivaldi. It would be interesting to develop this work further by listening to French and German pieces too, to see if you can gain a sense of the differences between the styles. Listen too to music for a wider range of instruments and consider how different instrumental techniques may have influenced the types of ornaments performed.” Since then, I have listed the French pieces, though unfortunately, I didn’t have time to include the German ones, which is really a mixture of the former national styles. Still, as I am studying for the full degree, I believe I will have enough time to tackle these in another unit, especially in terms of the final point. In fact, I have recorded this onto a to do list as a gap in my learning, so I hope to soon listen to Baroque pieces covering more instruments and see how each instrument affects the ornamentation.

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