21 February 2009

Composing: fragments from "The Wanderer" and my new piece for guitar and mandolin

I’ve begun and am now more than halfway done with a work for soprano and nine instruments based on fragments of the old English poem “The Wanderer.” I decided to use transcriptions (creative transcriptions) of wind sounds recorded at various places around the world – among them the ruins of Tughlaq’s palace in Delhi, the Turfan depression in China and others to develop chords and from there composed more or less freely. It is a very strong powerful work that I’m having a great time writing and am proud of. Shockingly it is among the more rhythmically simple of my pieces. I’ve taken little phrases and words here and there from the poem, so to say it is a setting of The Wanderer would be wrong – instead it is a setting of my feelings about the poem in general viewed at through the lens of memory. The text is an instrument, perhaps for the sentiments. One aspect of the poem that seems to be among the more salient is that of decay – the poem has a happy ending per se, but I’ve avoided that part. I’ve decided to enact that in a structure of changing instrumentation – different instruments will drop out with each section become “wanderers” if you will, joining with the voice or going off on their own. I’m quite pleased with it and hope to have it finished by mid-March. No performance scheduled or in the works – any takers?

After working diligently for several months, I decided to take a break from the guitar/mandolin piece in early January as things had reached a point of wrapping up. I was still unsatisfied with the piece and thought that some time away would allow me to return to it with a fresh perspective. Parts that I liked had begun to be changed beyond recognition, I had eliminated parts that I felt didn’t work in an effort to see if they were necessary and so forth. Ultimately, I think time away is the right idea.
I sat down yesterday and listened to what was there of the score and remained dissatisfied. Last night, I got up in the middle of the night with an I’d like to try out on it. First, create a version of the score that is simply the two parts and then two blank staves underneath – to make the composing over easier. Then consider the structure – making it more codified in a form of Introit, Sostenuto and Dance. Reinstate some of the introit figures which I always felt worked well as a beginning. Redo the middle section in order to create the thing that I felt I could never get from the ensemble – sustained pitches. Rewrite it so that it is a sustaining section in beautiful harmonies. The final dance section can be just that. Perhaps three movements instead of one? Or else divide the one movement into three movements with mock tuning and instrument arguments – in this way the performance becomes a part of the piece. Perhaps this will save the piece – the other option is to create a series of ephemeral moments – jumping in in the heat of action perhaps. I think I’ll try the first now and if that doesn’t work, try the second later.

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