Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Heroes of Riviere Ouelle

I am feeling somewhat guilty about not posting anything since October of last year. It not that I have not been busy with music, just the opposite. In fact, I have been spending all of my spare time working on my opera, Heroes of Riviere Ouelle. The idea for writing an opera is not a new one for me. Since I was a teenager and dreamed about becoming a composer I wanted to compose an opera but the shadow that my grandfather who composed many operas prevented me from doing that. I felt that I could never compose anything as good as he did, so I put the idea aside. In fact, I put composing aside for almost forty years. When most composers are thinking about retiring I started thinking about composing again. Back in the summer of 2017 the idea for writing this opera came to me while my wife and I were visiting Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I don't exactly remember how the idea came to me and it probably doesn't matter but that is when it happened. At first it was just the idea that I would compose the opera around the story of the Heroes of Riviere Ouelle where a group of farmers beat back the soldiers of William Phips, the governor of  Massachusetts. That is over simplifying the story but that is the essence of it.

I thought I would share some of the highlights of act I which I finished just before the Christmas holidays. I am now working on scene I of act II. I thought I would share the love duet from act I.
The love duet is between the two main characters of the opera, Chloe and Gaston. Chloe is a young woman who has arrived in Riviere Ouelle from France with the intent of finding a husband and Gaston falls in love with Chloe at first sight. The sing the love duet together. Unfortunately, I don't have a soprano and a tenor on hand to sing the love duet so I can only give you the music and piano accompaniment. I have yet to do the orchestration for this aria.

Here is the video link


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Simple Waltz for Chloe

Last year, I wrote a little duet for my granddaughter and daughter to play together at the Hamilton Suzuki School of Music duet concert. It was a simple piece with my granddaughter playing the same repetitive pattern on the E string, "taka taka ti ti", which was one of the first rhythmic patterns that a student learns in the Suzuki method. On top of that pattern I wrote a melody that my daughter played. Since my daughter is an accomplished violinist I was able to write a more interesting and demanding first violin part. They practised the piece together until it flowed well. at the concert, my granddaughter did here part well and the whole thing went well. Everyone like the performance and the piece. All was good.

This year, my granddaughter has had an entire year of violin lessons so her proficiency has increased significantly. I have written another piece for her but it is a little more complicated than the piece that I wrote last year. Both compositions are roughly the same length, about one minute, more or less. However, the piece that my granddaughter played last year consisted on one note and one rhythm played over and over again. This piece that I wrote for her this year is a little more complicated.

The piece that I wrote this year is based on the A major scale which incorporates all of the notes that my granddaughter has learned to play on her violin to date. Essentially, it starts with the open A on the A string, then B, C#, and D. Open E on the E string, then F#, G#, and finally A on the E string. It was an interesting process for me. I started with a version that I thought my be simple enough for my granddaughter to play then I proceeded to simplify through three more versions of the A major scale idea until I arrived at the version that I have now. I believe that it is simple enough for my granddaughter to play. It is repetitive in the since that, starting with the "A" on the "E" string, each note is a quarter note repeated three times in a descending scale. The second violin part, my granddaughter's part, consist of this descending three note pattern played twice. The whole piece takes about one minute to play. I wrote the piece in 3/4 time which is why I call it a Simple Waltz. If my Granddaughter emphasises the first note of each bar then it will have a typical waltz rhythm, a simple waltz rhythm.

Unfortunately, I do not think that my granddaughter will be able to play this piece this year. This is not a problem. There are other pieces that she has to learn and there is always next year. What I find interesting was the process of refining the idea to its simplest essence. What I have been thinking is to take all of the versions that I have been working on and working them into a set of variations. I would start with the simplest idea as the theme and work them into increasingly interesting and difficult variations. Maybe one day, my granddaughter would play the entire set of variations.

Link for video on YoutubeLink for video on Youtube

Friday, September 22, 2017

Study in C

Allegedly, Arnold Schoenberg, the father of twelve tone atonalism, once said, "there is still a lot of good music to be written in the key of C", meaning that you can take a key, a group of notes that represent a tonality and create an interesting piece of music. You can create something that has never bee written before. The key of C is the most prosaic of keys so the challenge to make something interesting in the key of C is significant. 

One day, I  decided to take up the challenge and see what I could compose in the key of C. I came up with this piano piece that I call a Study in C. To me, the thing that makes the piece interesting is that I  feature the tritone, an interval that I was always taught never to use or to use sparingly and only briefly, in passing so that the sound does not linger in the ear. Well, most of what I compose goes against what I was taught, but isn't that always the way? In this piece I use the tritone obsessively. It gives  the piece a driving quality, an obsessive quality. It started out as an idea, a whim, something inspired by this aleged utterance by Arnold Schoenberg. I guess that there still is many good things to write in the key of C. Maybe I will see what I can write for the piano in all of the other keys.

What I like about this piece is the relentless forward motion of the piece. By the end, it has a driving quality that is almost hypnotic. I was very satisfied with the result of this little experiment in the key of C.

Part of my inspiration for this piece comes from the music of Terry Riley, one of the proponents of minimalism. The other part of the inspiration for this piece comes from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier collection, not any one piece in particular but the ethos of the entire collection.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


I have finally finished the last section of Memories of Barcelona. It was inspired by the wonderful, fantastical architecture of Antoni Gaudi. This is the same Gaudi who conceived of the idea of the Sagrada Familia which inspired the second movement of Memories of Barcelona. Needless to say, I was very impressed with Gaudi.

As I was writing this piece I wanted to emulate the architecture that I saw in Gaudi park. the lines of the buildings and decoration have a certain baroque flowing quality . I wasn't going to try and imitate the Baroque style of composition, that would not be authentic, but I did want to capture the flowing ornamental feeling of Gaudi's work. That is what I tried to do in this composition.

Other than Bach, I can't think of another compose who I had in mind or listened to more while I was writing this piece. I listened to Bach's Well Tempered Clavier played on the guitar. I did listen to the music of Leo Brouwer. I don't how his playing and compositions influenced the piece but I did enjoy listening to his music.

Just as the middle section of Memories of Barcelona was slow and somewhat ponderous, I wanted the third section to be light and quick. I also felt that this feeling of lightness and quickness was more representative of Gaudi. The entire section is five minutes and thirty seconds ling long more or less. Again, I didn't want the section to be too long. I figure that when there is no more to say, a composer should just end the composition, so that is what I did. There is no resolution. There is no satisfying final cadence to let you know that the piece has ended. I just stopped. The funny thing is that I have a sense that the piece is still going on and I can hear in  my head that the piece is still playing. That is more in keeping with the sense of the piece than if I had used a more traditional ending. All in all, I am satisfied with the last section of Memories of Barcelona. All I need now is a highly skilled guitarist to play it!

Here is the link to the video https://youtu.be/bLGbsBv5LGQ

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Pour Denise

I have interrupted my posts on my composition, Memories of Barcelona. I was working on the third section or movement of the piece which is based on the work or the architect Gaudi, when my oldest sister passed away.

My oldest sister, Denise, had ovarian cancer for five years. She did her best to deal with the disease but in the end, the disease won and she passed away earlier this month. I flew to Quebec City to attend the funeral. While I was at the funeral in Quebec City the idea for a solo violin piece came to me. I heard the piece in my head, not complete but in pieces that seemed to float in and out of my head. What I felt and thought and experienced at the funeral could not be expressed in words, not even poetry. I, who is always so easy with words, was speechless. The only way I could express myself was with music, with this solo violin piece.

Almost at the same time that this piece came to me, another piece was playing in my head, Bach's Partita II, BWV 1004. It is a darkly, sad and beautiful masterpiece that I have always admired but at this time, the time of my sister's funeral , it was deeply comforting. the Chaconne seemed to speak to me in a way that expressed what I was thinking and feeling.

After the funeral, I returned to my cousins apartment where I spent some time writing down ideas for my solo violin piece. I wanted to spend time with my cousin before My flight home so I reluctantly set the piece aside, even though the ideas kept going through my head.

My cousin dropped me off at the airport around 6:00 pm on Friday, August 11th. My flight was at 8:00 pm so I had plenty of time to check-in, have a bite to eat and work on music. I planned to be home around 10:30 pm that night. Not was not how things turned out. There was a flight cancellation then a rescheduled flight followed by endless delays then finally my flight was cancelled and rescheduled for Saturday morning. During all of this time I had nothing to do but work on my violin piece. It also kept me preoccupied so I didn't have to think about all of the incertitude. Finally, I left the airport, found a place to sleep and returned to the airport bright and early on Saturday. While I ate breakfast at the airport I worked on my piece. While I was waiting to get on my flight I worked on the piece. All the way to Toronto on the plane I worked on the piece. The ideas were strong and tried to capture everything that I could.

Over the following weeks, I continued to work on the piece everyday. I listened to all of Shostakovitch's string quartets and violin concertos. there was much there that spoke to me. I listened to all of Beethoven's string quartets and as always I came away with a deeper understanding of composition. Bartok's string quartets had a particular hold on me. There was a resonance that I tried to capture in my violin piece.

Finally, I completed the violin piece then edited it heavily. I wanted it to flow in the same way that Bach's Chaconne flows and the way the Shostakovitch's and Bartok's string quartet's resonated in my head. In the end, although I was not totally satisfied with the result I considered this violin piece that I wrote in memory for my oldest sister to be finished. I think at some point in the future I may come back and look at it again but for now it is done.

I hope that you like it.

J'ai interrompu mes articles sur ma composition, Memories of Barcelona. Je travaillais sur la troisième section ou le mouvement de la pièce qui est basé sur le travail ou l'architecte Gaudi, lorsque ma sœur aînée est décédée.

Ma soeur aînée, Denise, a eu un cancer de l'ovaire pendant cinq ans. Elle a fait de son mieux pour faire face à la maladie, mais à la fin, la maladie a gagné et elle est décédée plus tôt ce mois-ci. Je suis allé à Québec pour assister aux funérailles. Pendant que j'étais au funéraire à Québec, l'idée d'une pièce de violon solo est venue à moi. J'ai entendu la pièce dans ma tête, pas complète mais en morceaux qui semblait flotter dans et hors de ma tête. Ce que j'ai ressenti, pensé et expérimenté au funéraire ne pouvait pas être exprimé par des mots, pas même par la poésie. Moi, qui est toujours si facile avec les mots, était sans voix. La seule façon de m'exprimer était la musique, avec cette pièce de violon solo.

Presque en même temps que cette pièce venait à moi, une autre pièce jouait dans ma tête, Partita II de Bach, BWV 1004. C'est un chef-d'œuvre sombre, triste et magnifique que j'ai toujours admiré, mais à cette époque, l'époque de mon les funérailles de la sœur, c'était très réconfortant. le Chaconne semblait me parler d'une manière qui exprimait ce que je pensais et ressaisais.

Après les funérailles, je suis retourné dans mon appartement aux cousins ​​où j'ai passé quelque temps à écrire des idées pour mon morceau de violon solo. Je voulais passer du temps avec mon cousin devant My flight home, donc j'ai réticent la pièce, bien que les idées aient continué à traverser ma tête.

Mon cousin m'a déposé à l'aéroport vers 18 heures le vendredi 11 août. Mon vol était à 20h00, donc j'avais beaucoup de temps pour faire un check-in, mordre et travailler sur la musique. Je prévoyais être à la maison vers 22h30 ce soir-là. Ce n'était pas la façon dont les choses se passaient. Il y a eu une annulation de vol alors un vol rééchelonné suivi par des retards sans fin puis enfin mon vol a été annulé et reprogrammé pour samedi matin. Pendant tout ce temps, je n'ai rien à faire que de travailler sur mon morceau de violon. Cela m'a également préoccupé, donc je n'ai pas eu à penser à toutes les incertitudes. Enfin, j'ai quitté l'aéroport, j'ai trouvé un endroit où dormir et je suis retourné à l'aéroport brillant et tôt le samedi. Pendant que je prenais le petit déjeuner à l'aéroport, j'ai travaillé sur mon morceau. Pendant que j'étais en attente d'aller sur mon vol, j'ai travaillé sur la pièce. Tout le chemin à Toronto dans l'avion, j'ai travaillé sur la pièce. Les idées étaient fortes et essayaient de saisir tout ce que je pouvais.

Au cours des semaines suivantes, j'ai continué à travailler sur la pièce tous les jours. J'ai écouté tous les quatuors à cordes de Chostakovitch et les concertos pour violon. Il y avait beaucoup de choses qui m'avaient parlé. J'ai écouté tous les quatuors à cordes de Beethoven et, comme toujours, je suis venu avec une compréhension plus profonde de la composition. Les quatuors à cordes de Bartok m'avaient particulièrement retenu. Il y a eu une résonance que j'ai essayé de capturer dans mon morceau de violon.

Enfin, j'ai complété la pièce de violon puis l'ai fortement édité. Je voulais que cela coule de la même manière que Chaconne de Bach coule et la façon dont le quatuor à cordes de Shostakovitch et Bartok résonne dans ma tête. À la fin, bien que je n'eusse pas totalement satisfait du résultat, j'ai considéré cette pièce de violon que j'ai écrite en mémoire pour que ma soeur aînée soit finie. Je pense que, à un moment ou l'autre, je pourrais revenir et le regarder à nouveau, mais pour l'instant, c'est fait.

J'espère que tu aimes ça.

Here is the link for Youtube/Voici le lien pour Youtube https://youtu.be/0WTdexd-snU

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Memories of Barcelona – Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia is the second movement of my memories of Barcelona. The Sagrada Familia, or the church of the sacred family is truly one of the wonders of Barcelona and I would say one of the wonder s of the modern world. It is a must see for everyone who goes to Barcelona. If you see nothing else go to see the Sagrada Familia.
I wanted to create or recreate the memory of the Sagrada Familia in music, in music played on a classical guitar. When I started to think about what I wanted to say about the Sagrada Familia, its grandeur kept coming back to mind. I also wanted to express that fact that it has been a long time in the making and will probably continue to take a long time before it is completed. It is definitely a work in progress, a continuously evolving work of creation.
I thought I would go back and research Spanish medieval church music which I did. I found several examples or Spanish church music that dated back to the 10th through to the 14th century that spoke to me in a way that seemed to express the ethos of the Sagrada Familia. In the end, I extracted a ground base which you can see in the first part of the piece. It is played very low and very slow. It is supposed to evoke the foundation, the roots of the Sagrada Familia on which the rest of the edifice is built. Structurally, the rest of the piece is built on this ground base in medieval fashion.
You could consider that the rest of the movement is a series of variations on the ground base that develop slowly but inexorably towards to the peak of the yet to be finished cathedral. The first iteration of the ground base is slow and ponderous, as would be the first layers of the foundation of a grand cathedral. Each iteration or layer of the movement is built up in this fashion. Each layer is a little higher in pitch. Each layer moves a little faster until the very end of the movement, the guitarist is playing quickly at the very top of the range of the guitar. I hope that I reasonably portrayed the sentiment that I was looking for.
There were several precedents that I had in mind when I wrote this movement. They are not classical guitar pieces but piano pieces although I have heard both pieces played on classical guitar. The two pieces that most clearly influenced me were Debussy’s La CathedraleEngloutie and Ravel’s Pavane Pour UneEnfante Defunte, two pieces which have always been close to my heart.  In La Cathedrale Engloutie, Debussy paints a wonderful tone poem of a legendary cathedral rising up out of water, sounds of chanting priests, chiming bells and an organ being played could be heard across the water. I have no problem visualizing the cathedral rising out of the water as I listen to the music.

With Ravel’s Pavane Pour Une Enfante Defunte, it is the ethos and sheer delicate beauty of the piece that I love. It is ancient and modern, tightly formal yet it gives you the feeling of being broad and expansive. My desire was to emulate these elements of these immortal pieces, even to a modest degree. The Pavane was a dance that was performed in the Spanish courts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I felt that the pace and rhythm of the Pavane was expressed in the towering edifice of the Sagrada Familia. 

Here is the score for the second movement of Memories of Barcelona - Sagrada Familia.

Here is the link for the video and music. https://youtu.be/Mpnd821OIB4

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Memories of Barcelona

It has been some time since I last wrote a post. A good many things have happened in that time. What I want to write about is music.

Over the last year or so I have renewed my activity in music. I never lost interest in music but I always found a reason to delay it or tell myself that there would always be time for music later. Well, later is now!

Last year, I gave my piano to a piano student who needed a piano but could not afford to buy one. I can't say that I regretted giving it away but I miss having a piano, especially now that I have started writing music again, after 20 years.

After the piano was gone I started playing my classical guitar again. I played every day but I was always playing someone else's music. It was fun but not as satisfying as playing my own music. One day I was sorting through some old paper that I was going to throw away and I came across some of my compositions from years ago, 20 years ago when I lived in Michigan. There was a string quartet that I had not finished. I had drafted two movements and left it for some reason. Did I lose interest? Did I not know where to go after the second movement? I could not remember. It was too long ago. I found a guitar piece that I had started. There were only a few bars of music but the melody was nice. I could see why I had written it down but could not remember why I did not develop it. The idea came into my head to finish it. I took the fragment and put it on my music stand and played it over and over to get a sense of where I might take it. Eventually, I began to have images and memories of the trip that my wife and I took to Barcelona, Spain. I decided to call the piece, Memories of Barcelona. The first movement of the piece brings back memories of the street life and night life of Barcelona which was quite lively and varied. I have finished two movements of what I conceived to be a three movement guitar piece.

About the music. Nominally, the key signature is E minor but I don't strictly follow the E minor scale. In fact, I use a tonality that is more modal in nature. This is what I heard in my head when I wrote the piece. It is more important for me to realize what is in my head than to follow some academic rule that says I have to keep within a specific tonality. In this day and age, almost anything goes regarding tonality. In the last hundred years, we have experienced everything from Serialism where tonality was more or less destroyed by Arnold Schoenberg to Philip Glass' minimalism where tonality is kept to the barest minimum. I feel completely justified in following my own sensibility regarding what tonality I chose to follow in a piece.

Here is the first movement. I hope you like it! I will give you the second movement next post. It is too bad that I could not attach a midi file to give you an idea of how the piece sounds.

I have been trying to attach the audio of this piece of music to the post by putting together a video but I could not attach it to the post so I uploaded it to Youtube. I hope this works.