Composition

Welcome to the composition portal! All your homework is listed here.

If you need more staff paper, you can print some from here: http://www.musictheory.net/tools/paper/blank

Week 4

  1. We will be looking at YOUR composition work next week – no excuses. Use all techniques we have covered to this point.
  2. Vocal melody exercise: find 1-2 lines from a poem other text (by an established author) that would be suitable for setting to music. Identify key features of the text.
    • what is the syllabic stress?
    • what are the most important words?
    • set the text to a melody in a non-standard scale (not major/minor)
    • use rhythm, meter, and intervals to emphasize stressed syllables and key words
  3. Read James Agee’s poem Sure On This Shining Night. Compare Samuel Barber’s setting with Morten Lauridsen’s. Both were/are American composers. Ignoring the stylistic differences between these 2 compositions, compare their treatment of the text through melody.
    • First analyze the text, identifying the syllabic stress and key words.
    • Focus only on melody In each composer’s setting. Find a few motifs that recur in the melody only.
    • In each melody, identify which words in the text have the following features:
    • melodic emphasis – larger or more dissonant intervals stand out
    • rhythmic emphasis (agogic accent) – longer notes emphasize certain words
    • melisma – using more than one note per syllable also creates emphasis
  4. Listen to Stravinsky’s The owl and the pussycat. This piece is from later in Stravinsky’s career when he focused on 12-tone (serial) composition, meaning the use of all 12 chromatic notes in a regular pattern.
    • Even though this song is fairly atonal (has no clear key), the same text setting features apply. Identify which key words have melodic or rhythmic emphasis.

Week 3

  1. Complete week 2’s work.
  2. Scales: create a piece from a scale of 3-6 notes. Avoid using a scale you already know, even if it’s only part of the scale (e.g. first 5 notes of major scale).
    • Identify the interesting features of the scale: what intervals or chords does it contain? Which ones need special treatment (e.g. tritones and minor seconds)?
    • Either rewrite one of your existing pieces in this scale, or write another short piece.
    • Your piece can use transposed versions of the same scale, but it cannot use any notes that don’t belong to the scale (E.g. C Eb can be transposed to D F, but do not use C D).
    • The sound world you create must be unique – it shouldn’t sound like any scale you are familiar with.
  3. Listen to movements 101, 115, and 133 of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. Béla Bartók was a Hungarian composer who collected Hungarian folk music. Mikrokosmos is a set of 153 beginner pieces that use 20th century compositional techniques, including unusual scales and irregular meters.
    • Movement 101 is called “Diminished Fifth”. What is the piece’s scale mode?
    • Movement 115 is called “Bulgarian Rhythm (2)”. What is the rhythmic division? What is the scale? Try to identify the notes in the melody of the first 2 measures by playing through them on the piano.
    • Movement 133 is called “Syncopation (3)”. What is the the rhythmic division? What kind of chord (major, minor, etc.) is in the left hand? Which notes in the melody don’t fit this chord?
  4. Listen to part of Steve Reich’s Six pianos. This is a living American composer known for minimalist music, or music that uses repetition gradual change.
    • How long is the repeated pattern? How often does the pattern change? What is changed?
    • Most of the interesting features are generated by rhythmic elements we’ve discussed: displacement and syncopation. Which beats or subdivisions are accented?

Week 2

  1. Complete week 1’s work.
  2. Rhythmic displacement: pick one of your motifs from week 1 which is rhythmically interesting. Alternatively, pick a rhythm from one of the Ligeti movements from week 1.
    • in a simple time signature (2/4, 3/4, or 4/4), write out the rhythm in as many different displacements as possible
    • each displacement must place the downbeat in a different part of the rhythm
    • identify syncopated notes (ones that don’t land on beats)
    • clap and count the rhythms
  3. Changing metre: rewrite the above rhythms, or a rhythm of your own design, in as many different metres as possible.
    • use at least 4 different irregular metres (5/4 with emphasis on 1 and 3, 5/4 with emphasis on 1 and 4, 7/8 with emphasis on 1 and 4, etc.)
    • identify syncopations, clap and count
  4. Listen to the beginning of mvt. 6 (“Dance of Fury, for the Seven Trumpets”) of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of TimeThis piece was written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in a POW camp during WWII. He had a fascination with rhythm and especially “non-retrogradable” rhythm, meaning a rhythm that is the same when played backwards.
    • What is the time signature of the first 2 measures? What about the 3rd measure? The 4th measure?
    • Based on the recording, how would you group the notes of the 1st measure (where would you write the accents)? Which notes sound syncopated (such as the dotted ones)?
    • See how far you can clap along… good luck!
  5. Listen to the opening and first dance (Augurs of Spring) of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (about 4 minutes): Igor Stravinsky is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. This famous ballet is about a pagan ritual of sacrifice that renews the earth in spring.
    • Listen to the melody at the beginning (in bassoon) and identify the motif (falling scale). Every time the motif returns, try to identify whether it is on the beat or a syncopation.
    • Augurs of Spring has a constant stream of 8th notes in 2/4 where the accent pattern changes continually. Transcribe the accents in the strings between 3:01 and 3:10 in the video (write down what you hear)
  6. Complete your short piece: Follow the instructions from week 1. You may choose to expand on your first piece, or write a second short piece to demonstrate the following:
    • use a rhythm in different displacements
    • use a rhythm in different metres, including at least one irregular metre
    • remember what we discussed in the Ligeti movement: at every moment your music must balance repetition and change

Week 1

  1. Listening: send me the names and composers of two pieces that interest you. Make sure you have both a score and recording of that piece.
    • See my listening articles for music ideas, as well as what you should know about the pieces you choose
  2. Isolate motifs: Identify two motifs from one of the pieces you picked.
    • Limit your motif to 4 notes or less
    • Each motif must be a repeating feature in the piece (by transposition, inversion, etc.)
    • Each motif must have a unique intervallic or rhythmic contour
  3. Develop motifs: using the methods we discussed, write out 3-6 lines of different variations on the above motifs.
    • You can copy out variations from the score or compose your own
    • Do not change the intervallic or rhythmic contour (with intervals, preserve the size, not quality)
    • As a result, you can either choose to use exact (real) transposition/inversion/etc., where you preserve the quality of intervals, or diatonic (tonal) transposition/inversion/etc., where you only preserve the size of intervals
  4. Listen to György Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata: mvt. 1 and 2 (feel free to listen to the whole collection). Each movement is written from a limited set of notes.
    • What are the motifs in each movement, and how are they developed?
    • Where does Ligeti repeat material, or introduce new material? What is the ratio of new to old material?
    • Listen to mvt. 10, which uses a much larger set of notes. Identify some of its motifs, their repetition, and their development.
  5. Write a short piece: Using 1 of the motifs and 2-3 of the methods from above, and using the variations you wrote, organize them into a short piece for a solo instrument.
    • Brevity is the soul of wit (maximum length of 1 page)
    • Every note must belong to a version of the motif, and the motif must be always recognizable
    • You can now modify the notes and rhythms of the motif
    • Repetition is your ally: balance the amount of familiar and new material you present at any time
    • Explore other ways of differentiating your motif (dynamics, articulation, registration, rhythmic displacement)
    • How can you begin and end the piece, still using the motif?