06 October 2008

Composing Today

A full day of work on the guitar/mandolin piece. I was exploring more the concept of translation today – how can we make it work with a musical experience. Sure, with a physical experience I can take the essence of it and morph it into a structure or concept. With this piece, I want to reflect on the blind man of Urumqi playing his erhu down the street. The idea translates to the ensemble here in the concept of blindness – the surroundings may change but he will still remain walking the changing streets of China and playing the beggar’s fiddle, one of the oldest instruments in the country. To create the blindness, I retuned the guitar and mandolin to create an instrument that is the same physically (the alleys and anes that he walks) but that has a different existence – the pitches here are different though the streets are the same – to mix several metaphors simultaneously. Let’s go further and reflect on a musical experience, to translate the musical experience I can reflect on what works for me in the piece musically and then do something with those to create something new based on the musical parameters of something else. In this case, I’m not particularly interested in the musical parameters – he plays a relatively simple pentatonic song, with the addition of one grace note and a slide. It is his feeling that is what is interesting. Instead, I’ve decided to transcribe the gestures of the player – he has six positions on the instrument, plus the open string, that he moves between depending on the note he’s playing. I mapped this geography onto the instruments I’m writing for and from there chose little figures duplicating the rhythm – so the players here are playing his song on their new instruments, or at least the gestures of his song.
I’ve been playing around with the piece for a few hours today and have about a minute and a half of music – very rhythmic making full use of the open strings. I still don’t have much sense of the piece. The erhu player plays a song that is ABA, with the first and last phrases essentially duplicating each other. Perhaps I should simply map this structure onto the guitar/mandolin piece, which would mean that I have an A section and need to simply develop a B section and another A section and the piece is finished except for the crazy remapping of it back onto the guitar/mandolin. We’ll see where it goes.
In other news, I’ve found that the best way for me to hear it fully is to save it as a midi version on one track – this keeps similar sounds and the quarter-tones, which I’ve beenhaving a hell of a time getting on my nasty-looking four-staff finale version.

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01 October 2008

Listening to Bruckner

I have begun the perhaps foolhardy task of listening to Bruckner’s music. Foolhardy because much of it has not been recorded and the enormous difficulty that underscores the various versions of his works is also in play. That said there is the new Bruckner Complete Works edition and I have a piano. I have decided to take the listing compiled by the Nevada Bruckner Society as a chronological starting point making a few alterations ere and there. Any leads on recordings would be quite helpful and any choirs wishing to perform these works will find a willing conductor in me.

1835 Pange lingua in C for mixed chorus (WAB 31)
Touching hymn by the then twelve year-old Bruckner which he held on to, perhaps as an emblem of innocence into his old age, "restoring" it (according to Novak) in 1891. It is a simple exercise in four part harmony almost entirely in half notes, gentle and peaceful.

1835 Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina (WAB 136)
It is a sketch of 20+ measures for soprano voice and thought to not be Bruckner's work. I can't find it.

1837 Prelude for Organ (WAB 127)
This prelude originally believed to be by the 14 year old Bruckner is actually by his teacher Berger. It is a standard affair, the sort of things the organists imporivse al the time - chords moving one to another modlating followed by scalar passages over a similar harmonic framework.

c.1837 4 Preludes in E flat for Organ (WAB 128)
These four little organ prelude correspond to passages in the work of, perhaps, JB weis - the critical report says they match almost note for note parts of a collection. The first is a good exercise in enharmonic motion, while the other three are simple charming preludes that would work suitably in a litrugical setting. Worth seeking out if only for that reason.

c. 1842 Mass in C for Alto, mixed chorus and 2 horns "Windhaager Mass" (WAB 25)
Let's talk about this little mass for alto solo, organ and two horns. It is a real workman's mass, equivalent to the many things I have had to play for various churches, and which are still composed by organists. The intention is nothing special, simple melodies that are easily performable. Bruckner does just that - these are sight readable melodies and accompaniments and better than the Marty Haugen Mass of Creation that is the staple of Catholic masses in America. Of note is thelovely Benedictus in Eb (which is foreshadowed with a strange Eb harmony in the opening Christe). There are a few harmonic niceties but all in all very simple. Perhaps a good teaching piece.

1843 Tafellied (WAB 86)
Bruckner returned to this work in his old age. It is a lovely charming setting for male choir of a text by Knauer to be sung before going to the table. Lovely and warm. Recommended.

c. 1843 Libera me Domine, in F, for chorus & organ (kronsdorf?) (WAB 21)
It is absolutely lovely, this setting of the Libera me domine, totally honest and without the fire we come to expect from a requiem setting.

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