Category Archives: Classical Music

How Does This Work Then? (for solo cello)

The purpose of this post is to share a recording of new composition of mine for solo cello.

Whenever I get to play around with a cello or think about writing for it, I instinctively seem to see it as some sort of ‘orchestral’ version of the bass guitar – an instrument that I am more familiar with. As such, this music was composed to represent the exploratory, experimental ‘bass-like’ mentality I naturally have when thinking about the instrument.

Justyna Jablonska - Cellist
Justyna Jablonska – Cellist

When performed, this piece should sound like someone ‘discovering’ the cello through the lens of their own experience of playing the bass guitar. The performer should convey a sense of naïve, experimental investigation throughout, and should feel free to hesitate, become frustrated, and embrace any issues associated with exploring an alien, yet strangely familiar instrument.

The score can be downloaded here.

 

The following is a recording of the track (with animated score), performed by Edinburgh-based, Polish cellist Justyna Jablonska.

 

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What sense can I make of improvisation?

Time for another instalment on improvisation – I’m going to try to absorb different accounts of what improvisation is and who does it… and there are questions that I don’t necessarily have answers for.

To begin with, two complaints against improvisation:

First from C.P.E. Bach, commenting sarcastically, in the preface to his Sonatas with Varied Repeats (1760). He goes on:

“It is indispensable, nowadays to alter repeats. One expects it of everybody.  A friend of mine goes to endless trouble to play a piece as it is written, flawlessly and in accordance with the rules of good performance; how can one not applaud him? Another, often pressed by necessity, makes up by his audacity in alteration for the lack of expression he shows in the performance of the written notes; the public nevertheless extols him above the former.”

He’s complaining about the prevalence of improvising, particularly the convention that on the second time through a melody, the performer would add variations;in fact some of them would start before they had finished the first time through – think of how a jazz player states the theme of a ballad for instance. Consequently Bach began composing the varied repeats himself, and also provided variations or embellishments (Auszierungen) for existing works. This makes us aware of the degree to which improvisation was the modus operandi of his day, and his complaint is the beginnings of a move away from it.

Now Scott Joplin, in a preface to a collection of his piano ragtime compositions:

“We wish to say here that the “Joplin ragtime” is destroyed by careless or imperfect rendering, and very often good players lose the effect entirely, by playing too fast. They are harmonised with the supposition that each note will be played as it is written, as it takes this, and also the proper time divisions to complete the sense intended.”

Continue reading What sense can I make of improvisation?

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Turn the Beat Around

In a previous post I talked about ‘keeping the beat’, while rhythmically shifting melodic motifs and accents.  One way of shifting  was to pre-ordain it through the process of pulse preserving polymeter, as exemplified by Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and Stavinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet. However, Stravinsky didn’t only use such prearranged processes to create rhythmic displacement; in fact more often he would also just do it.

Histoire du Soldat and Thelonious Monk:

Again, Histoire du Soldat provides some of the best examples of this, partly because, as Lambert said, all those marching band rhythms and pseudo polkas and rags make the pulse emphatically clear.

Here is one of my favourite examples from Histoire:
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Transformations and their musical counterparts.

This post is written in Binary Form.

When thinking about the relationship between numbers and music, often what first springs to mind are the proportional differences between the physical objects that generate musical intervals on which harmony and melody is so often based. The famous story of the blacksmith’s workshop and Pythagoras is sometimes used to illustrate this. Pythagoras was said to have been walking past a workshop where the sound of anvils of different weights were being struck, with each weight producing a different tone. Sounding together the result was consonant or stable. Upon investigation Pythagoras, it is said, realised that the pleasing aural result was accompanied by the pleasing integer proportion between the weights of the hammers, 6, 8, 9 and 12.

When one considers music in its own isolated discipline bubble, it might seem that it has a unique place beside mathematics (historically, music forms a pillar of the quadrivium alongside geometry, astronomy and athematic). However, perhaps the real power lies in the hands of numbers, and their ability to describe nature and her patterns.

“Numbers are a universal medium for the embedding of patterns of any sort, and that for that reason, statements seemingly about numbers alone can in fact encode statements about other universes of discourse”

Douglas Hofstadter, in his forward to Gödel’s Proof (Revised Edition)

Continue reading Transformations and their musical counterparts.

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Metric Puns and Rhythmic Tricks: From Hancock to Haydn

Let me start this with an excerpt of the guitar work Melvin (Wah Wah Watson) Raglin, on Herbie Hancock’s Hang Up Your Hang Ups from the 1975 album, Manchild.
Continue reading Metric Puns and Rhythmic Tricks: From Hancock to Haydn

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