Music Composition Assignments for 2.16.2018

Music Composition

For this Friday’s class, please be prepared to work on your composition in some capacity for about half of the class period. That can involve planning, discussing ideas with colleagues, or actually writing music. Please be prepared to use the time by bringing anything you will need, including instruments, headphones/earbuds, computers, paper, etc. If you don’t have anything to work on in class, I’ll have stuff for you to work on, but I would highly suggest you spend the time wisely and work on your assignment.

Your assignment is a multi-movement work, at least three related movements in any genre, any style, any instrumentation. There is no requirement for length. Compositions will be due in class on March 2nd.

Last week we discussed a few ways that different movements can be related. Some examples are below, though this is certainly not an exhaustive list. You can use any or all of these methods, or come up with another way to connect your movements to one another.

Key relationships: One of the easiest ways to keep varying movements related is by key. For instance, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by W.A. Mozart has four movements. Three of those four movements are in G major, and the second movement is in the related key of C major. You can listen to the whole piece here. To help determine key relationships, using the circle of fifths can be informative. Related keys are usually one place to the left or right. You can also use the parallel major or minor (C major into c minor, for example, which uses the same tonic and dominant) or the relative major or minor (C major into a minor, which uses the same key signature).

Rhythmic motive: Beethoven used the same four-note rhythmic motive throughout much of the Fifth Symphony. Bonus, the key relationships are also unifying elements. In listening through the entire symphony, you can repeatedly hear the same rhythm (short-short-short-long) both in the melody and in accompanying/harmony instruments.

Melodic motive: Using the same basic melody throughout different movements is a tough way to unify movements because it takes a great deal of creativity and planning, but it is fascinating when it works out well. J.S. Bach did that with The Art of the Fugue (Die Kunst der Fuge). This work consists of 18 separate fugues and canons that all use the same basic subject in d minor. Bach never finished the work, and he did not specify which instruments he wrote it for, so it may have been something that he just wrote for fun to challenge his own writing skills. You can listen to the whole work here.

Same poet/lyricist: Vocal works that are related and meant to be conceived as a whole are known as “song cycles.” For vocal works, an easy way to unify different movements is to use texts from the same poet. The texts don’t necessarily have to be related, though they sometimes are. Robert Schumann’s “Liederkreis,” which literally means song cycle in German, are by German poet Joseph Eichendorff. The poems are not necessarily related to one another in subject. However, Schumann also gave them a musical structure by composing the whole 12-song cycle in a loose sort of palindrome.

Plot line or character: Both vocal and instrumental works can be about characters or have a story line. Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise” is about a wandering man on a journey that ultimately ends in his death. The poems follow a story line, though many of them metaphorical, and are meant to be sung in order. Pierrot Lunaire is another song cycle by Arnold Schoenberg that tells the story of a clown who descends into madness by the end of the work. A piano work that tells a story is Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an ExhibitionEach movement depicts a drawing in an art exhibit. The artist was a friend of the composer, and the movements are his musical interpretation of the drawings he saw. One movement, “Promenade,” depicts the composer walking from one drawing to the next, and is repeated a few times during the whole work. This was originally written for piano, and then later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.

My musical happy moment this week is rather long, but a humorous vocal work by The King’s Singers describing different styles of music in a work called “Masterpiece.” Perhaps it can serve as some inspiration for adding different styles into your own compositions!