Composing Music Part 2 – Exploring Melody and Scales

Melody

Amongst the most ancient melodies known is the Entrance Hymn for the Emperor (Circa 1000BC) which was part of the time-honoured Chinese course ceremonial. Written in the Pentatonic scale it has a percussion accompaniment.

The Ambrosian Hymn – the highest note is only heard once. A beautifully balanced melodic line.

The First Delphic Hymn – is the earliest known Greek music. A pain to the god Apollo, it probably won a prize not he Pythian festival, which is why it came to be engraved on stones found in Delphi. Largely a pentatonic scale.

St Godric was the earliest known lyrical poet in the English language. He was never officially canonised – here is more information about him Godric of Finchale

Contour, peak points, glancing and reflecting phrases in melodic lines from the distant past can be found in all the best melodies of recent times too. eh Tchaikovsky.

Dynamic play a very important part in the impact and character of a piece. This is the same for melodic lines

A five note scale has been used since antiquity and occurs in traditional music throughout the world.Auld Lang Syne uses this scale. More recent composers and pop musicians have made innovative uses of its tonally indeterminate qualities.

Project 5 – Pentatonic Melody

The composition of three contrasting pentatonic melodic shapes designed as vocal lines for a male or female voice. Use dynamics, tempo and rhythmic interest to make them a contrasting group of solos. As you are exploring a melody there is no need for bar lines

So I found this quite an easyish task, however I couldn’t really work on Sibelius without the bar lines but what I have done I am pleased with. I made two pentatonic scales of their own and then I made a third combining two pentatonics. There is a lovely feel to this scale. I found it pleasant to listen to.

Simple melody using the C Major pentatonic scale
Audio version
Simple melody using A major pentatonic
Audio version
Simple melody using A major and B major pentatonic
Audio version

Introducing Wind Instruments

Wind instruments and their ranges

Flute

Range of the Flute

The flute is agile and expressive. The lowest part of the register is warm and rich but can be lost if combined with other instruments. In the higher range it is strong and strident. The higher notes are difficult to produce softly.

  • Agile and expressive
  • Lowest part of the register is warm and rich but can be lost combined with other instruments
  • above this the flute is strong and strident
  • Higher notes are difficult to produce softly

Syrinx by Debussy

This was a new piece to me. Listening to it being played I thought it was a short piece that had been written for ballet. The ebb and flow of the flute made it suited to something with a water theme, as it was gentle, however I sensed that it was written in a minor key which added some sadness to it. It was so beautiful to listen to.

After listening to pieces I always try and make myself familiar with the piece and the story that it tells and I was pleasantly surprised to read that this piece does in fact involve water so I am pleased I was in the right area for this.

Syrinx tells the story of the river nymph, Syrinx, who was pursed by the god Pan. In a panic, Syrinx runs to the edge of the water and begs the water nymphs to help her escape Pan’s pursuit. In response, she is transformed into a bundle of hollow reeds.

As I started to listen to this I could understand why it was a dance piece as it gently flowed and built up and then slowed down again. Very fluid and gentle playing. I think this is played in a minor chord. I am not familiar with the piece at all but I enjoyed it, I enjoyed hearing the flute played so beautifully. My thoughts are that maybe the range of the flute is fully utilised in this piece.

Danse de la Chèvre by Arthur Honegger

Honegger’s Danse de la chèvre (‘The Goat Dance’, 1921), dedicated to René Le Roy, shares Tailleferre’s interest in matters pastoral. A languorous, mysterious opening—improvisatory in quality and featuring the interval of the tritone, or ‘diabolus in musica’—is transformed into the lively skipping and tripping of the main goat theme (the lecherous Pan?). Composed originally for the dancer Lysana within a play by Sacha Derek entitled La Mauvaise Pensée and first performed at the Nouveau Théâtre in Paris on 2 December 1921, this short piece shows well the flute’s attributes with varied articulations, trills and chromatic passagework (up to a top B flat). After several fluctuations of tempo, the dance slows once more, becoming distant and disintegrated, ending with a hollow, unworldly-sounding harmonic.

I was astounded by this piece. Firstly I love hearing the breaths of the flautist coming through on the recording but I was totally amazed at the virtuosity of the flautist here. The differences in the 6 parts here was amazing. From a quick tempo to a slower and more relaxing one, each part in itself was so astounding. I liked hearing the motifs of the piece. For me listening for the first time I again am assuming that this piece uses most of the range that the flute is capable of and it is marvelous. I really enjoyed this

Suite for solo Flute by Jean Francaix

Francaix’s Suite includes six movements representing modern treatments of some of the most popular dances in French history. Includes: Caprice, Pavane, Saltarelle, Allemande, Menuet, and Marche.

Having looked up the piece now I understand more as to why each piece is like it is, relating to the dances.

Piece by Jaques Ibert


I like how this piece starts, with a gentle lilt and gliding through the range of the flute. As I go along I can hear the mood change so I am assuming that we have movements in this piece, I will assume three. Movement one has a lovely repeating melody which is repeated with slight differences higher up the range and I am not sure but maybe in a slightly different key. The second movement is so different, with an increase in tempo and the range is really quite brand. As I was listening to the higher range I thought it was much like a birdsong, it seemed it had a song to it. There is definetly a third and I guess final movement here I feel this is akin to the first movement with motifs being repeated. It is slower and to me I feel like it could almost be the gentle laying of waves on a river bank as the river gently meanders to the sea. The ending was superb, a high note then a long held low note.

Sonata for flute alone by Virgil Thomson

Overall I did not like this piece. To me the final movement was the best, I loved the motif that was running through it, the runs in the piece and its liveliness was in total contrast to the first two movements. I found the movements at odds with one another. One and two seemed to flow into one another but the movements themselves seemed very conflicted and they do not work, the third movement seemed very out of character for the piece.

Recorder

The range of the many different recorders
  • Treble is the most commonly used
  • Higher descant (soprano in the USA) sounds an octave higher
  • Tenor is the same as descant but sounds an octave lower
  • Bass is the same range as the treble but sounds an octave lower
  • Rarely combines well with anything more than a light keyboard or small string ensemble

Alun Hoddinott- Lizard

The piece sounds like a lizard moving through its environment, and the trills made through the playing I believe to be the mimicking of the flicking of the tongue of a lizard.

The length of notes played corresponds to the speed of the lizard as it moves. I am thinking when it is moving slowly for hunting, speeding up to pounce on its prey or even when it runs away sharply and its general moving. The overall sound of the recorder gives me the feeling of an exotic location for which the lizard would be a native.

I have never ever heard a recorder played like this and having played recorder in school, school recorder playing was nothing like this ever!!

Robin Walker – A Rune for St Mary’s

At the start this almost sounds like a flute playing as it is so high in the register but when it lowers you can hear that it isn’t, that for me was quite astounding. This is a beautiful piece. I feel like I am laying in a field somewhere listening to the sounds of nature, some of the notes convey bird songs and some feel like grass moving in a light breeze or a small stream nearby.

Range of the Oboe
  • Double reed instrument
  • strong nasal tone penetrating in lower register
  • expressive qualities
  • Can be agile
  • Not an even match for the flute but good players can balance it

Benjamin Britten – Six Metamorphoses after Ovid

I am not familiar with the Oboes as a single instrument but it sounds beautiful in this piece.

As each movement is named after a Roman god in this particular piece I am assuming that each movement will convey the characterises of the god and what he was known for, using the instrument to demonstrate that. So each movement should be different and without having a score in front of me I do not know if the time and key signature will change.

I know a little about Roman gods and I did feel that this piece was conveying what these gods were known for , I noted this in particular in “Bacchus” and “narcissus” which I felt perfectly expressed the characteristics of the Roman gods.

I like the character of the Oboe, it seems a very effective and dramatic instrument

Gordon Jacob – Seven Bagatelles

Firstly I heard all the keys being pressed in this piece. Apart from that I did not like this piece at all. I could not relate the titles of the movement to what I heard being played. I didn’t hear a march I didn’t hear a waltz and for me, I was not engaged in it. Although it does demonstrate the virtuosity of the instrument I have not connected with the piece at all which is a shame.

I like the character of the Oboe, it seems a very effective and dramatic instrument

Range of the saxophone
  • Shares a similarity with the recorder
  • Several sizes which are all transposing instruments
  • Soprano, Tenor and Bass in Bflat transposes a major second down
  • Alto and Baritone in Eflat transpose a minor 3rd up
  • Tenor and baritone sound an octave lower than the soprano and alto
  • Bass sounds two octaves lower _

Paul Creston – Saxophone Sonata Op 19

One of my favourite pop musicians actually plays saxophone and is rather fabulous when he really gets into his groove on certain songs so I am more than accustomed to the sound of a saxophone. I am more used to hearing pieces in a jazz setting via this degree course but this piece. I absolutely adored the whole thing.

This piece with the accompanying piano was right up my street and I have never heard the saxophone played like this ever! The piano is the perfect accompaniment to this and does not drown out the saxophone at all. When I listen to the piece I am actually transported to the 1930s and this whole piece would easily fit into a film or television programme set then, but not in a jazz way. This is not jazz this is a truly wonderful foray into what the instrument can do. The movements are doing what they say they are doing but my absolute favourite is II – With Tranquillity” as there is a delicacy there I did not know this instrument could be capable of and in some places it sounds almost like a violin. There was a romance to the section that just simply worked.,

I thought this was a lovely piece, full of the depth of the instrument and perfectly living up to the title of rhapsody. It has made me appreciate the instrument and what it can achieve

Range of the clarinet
  • A range of almost 4 octaves – widest in the section
  • most agile
  • greatest dynamic range
  • Can play most notes in its range from ppp to fff (ppp at the very top)
  • colour difference between upper and lower ranges
  • lower range of 1 1/2 octaves produces a rich, hollow oily colour
  • Transposing instrument
  • Clarinet in Flat is written a tone higher than it sounds
  • Clarinet in A is a major 3rd higher
  • A single reed instrument

Richard Rodney Bennett – Sonatina for clarinet solo

I loved the versatility and range of the clarinet coming through here. It also shows how the dynamics are important on the instrument. I liked the piece but I thought that the second movement (Night Thought – Lento) really showed off the versatility with the quietness and the loudness coming across. I do think it gives the listener a very good idea of how the clarinet can be used to great effect in a solo instrument setting.

Oliver Messiaen _ Abime des oiseaux (from Quartet for The End Of Time)

Very gentle and unassuming to start with hints of melancholia , however we have burst of the higher range of the clarinet too. Looking at the title and translating to English as Abyss of Birds, I have concluded that the clarinet is imitating birds using dynamics but in parts there is screeching and I wonder if the birds in fact are dying. Without knowing the full story behind the whole piece as this is just one movement I could not say for sure. Interesting use of the clarinet in dynamics and range here and used very effectively.

Alan Hovhaness – Lament.

I am not sure if I have the correct piece here. This sounds like there are multiple clarinets with both Bflat and A being used for contrast. It really does work and with the range of the instrument being shown and the clarinets sounding different it is joyful. At the end I could have sworn that the clarinets were imitating a flock of birds heading away into the distance. A beautiful and haunting piece

Lennox Berkeley – Three pieces for Clarinet Solo.

I did not enjoy listening to this piece at all. I couldn’t engage with it and there didn’t seem to be any story or feel coming through. The piece does show off the versatility of the clarinet but as a piece in itself I couldn’t feel an thing.

Range of the Bassoon
  • Shares characterises with the obow
  • Agility gives it an unfair name of “clown of the orchestra”
  • Quiet and expressive side to its personaliy

Willson Osborne – Rhapsody

I am unfamiliar with the Bassoon as an instrument on its own.

Whilst this is an instrument which is low on the register, I think the title of Rhapsody is befitting. Normally I would associate a Rhapsody being attributed to instruments in the higher range but this solo piece takes command of the name and runs with it. It is melancholic and for such a deep sound it is gentle. The piece goes through the range of the instrument too, which proves that it is a versatile instrument.

I thought this was a lovely piece, full of the depth of the instrument and perfectly living up to the title of rhapsody. It has made me appreciate the instrument and what it can achieve

Project 6: Analysing a Solo Composition

Paul Hindemith -Acht Stücke für Flöte allein

All eight parts in this composition have the following in common things in common

  • No key signature
  • Extensive use of dynamics
  • use of staccato notes
  • use of accented notes
  • different performance directions for each part
  • Considerable use of slurs

Where each part differs is in the time signatures, some have them and some don’t but each time signature is different and some do change mid part. Whilst each part has no key signature, the extensive use of sharps and flats coupled with the performance directions and dynamics make each part unique. There seems to be some freedom for the flautist to play freely here and there (Frei) and the piece as a whole has expression. I feel a sense of warmth listening to this, the eight parts flow into one another and make for a pleasurable overall listening experience.

Igor Stravinsky – Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo

The three pieces all have the following things in common

  • No key signature
  • grace notes
  • minimal dynamic markings
  • strict performance directions on each piece
  • Considerable use of slurs
  • Strict metronome markings for each piece
  • Breath markings that the composer states must be adhered to

In the three parts each has a distinctive look, feel and sound with two pieces played on the A Clarinet and one in Flat. Two pieces have variable metre, but these do not seem to be in any pattern that I can discern. The three pieces sound so different from one another. Piece one is slow and quiet using crotchets and semiquavers, piece two is very very intense. It uses the practically the whole of the clarinet range which makes for an interesting variation but the use of Demi semi quavers, semi quavers and staccato make this piece extremely fast sounding. No time signature means that the clarinetist can play this rapidly but of course they have to adhere to the breath symbols or the piece will not sound right as they lose breath. Putting in a rest would not have the same effect.

Piece three is different again with its variable metre and being played on clarinet B flat. This piece is loud and lets you know about it, as you are indicated to play forte from the beginning and it gradually gets louder with lots of accented and staccato notes which I found very difficult to follow at first and had to have a few listens to get this right.

With all the pieces having no time signature then the combination of sharps, flats and accidentals make for interesting listening.

Overall thoughts

I found the Hindemith piece more interesting to listen to, I enjoyed it much more as it seemed to say more to me. Stravinsky seems too rushed and devoid it seems of some emotion with its limited dynamic markings.

Exploring more scales

This scale like the pentatonic can appear to have no resting place or final note. Melodic lines begin and end on any one of its component notes. This produces a floating, never ending quality to melodic lines built within it.

Rimsky- Korsakov was amongst the first composers in the western classical tradition to explore the so called Middle-Eastern alternation of whole tone and semitone steps, resulting in the 8 note scale.

Might be seen as a combination of a diatonic and pentatonic scale a semitone below

Project 7 Exploring different scales

Whole Tone Scales

Using the D major scale (D E F# G#A# C) on the Treble Recorder

Using the E Flat major scale ( E Flat, F G A B Dflat Eflat)

East European Scales

Using the A major scale ( A, B flat, C#, D, D F G#, A)

Using the G minor scale (G, A, B flat, C#, D, E flat, F#, G)

Middle Eastern 8 note scales

Using Bflat Major (Bflat, C D flat, Eflat, F#, G A Flat)

Using Bminor (B, C, D, Eflat, F, G flat, Aflat, A, B)

Nine Note Scales (Nonatonic)

Using E major (F#, G#, A, B. C Dflat, D. E flat E)

Using A minor (Bflat, B, C#, D Eflat, E, F#, G# A)

Chromatic scale

Using F major (G flat, G, A flat, A, B flat, B, C, D flat, D, Flat, E, F)