Writing the Musical Score: A Composer’s Journal

March 29th, 2013

Monday, November 5

2:30 a.m.

Just finished writing the last few notes of V into the main score. Diana Souza, the graphic designer for my books, came over for some hours tonight; she heads back to Dallas tomorrow after a six weeks stay in Ithaca. I showed her the score for V, and when she came to the piano cadenza in V she gasped with delight, amazed that the piano part looked like the winter wind blowing across the page. She was also amazed that I had done it on purpose, planned it that way… I laughed and said that when I wrote Cathedrals of Light, I drew cathedral spires on the page as I wrote the harp part.

Looking through the score, Diana asked if the quarter note passages in the strings was a motive – it is rhythmically, but not the pitches. I wrote this piece without any thematic/harmonic repetitions in the quarter note string passages; the last line of Hurley’s poem, Cold, the winter road, suggests the passage of time and space, traveling – and the scenes would be constantly changing as one traveled that road, that path… Generally, the composer writes in ABA, where the first entire section is repeated, or AABB where both sections are repeated – or the composer at least repeats fragments of sections, or themes, or harmonies; partly to save the composer’s time and effort. It is not always easy to invent new material, new themes and harmonies. But more to give the listener points of reference, to lend cohesion and form to the piece. In this instance, I felt that the quarter note passages were recognizable simply because of the rhythmic similarity, and because I mainly scored those lines in the strings. Certainly they are visually recognizable in the score, on the manuscript pages; Diana saw the similarity of those sections without any effort.

Friday, November 9

I have been working steadily on XXVI, Ringing Gorges/ The Hymn of the Earth, filling in my initial sketches for the last pages and copying them into the main score. This morning I decided on the ending and how to get there and sketched it out. XXVI is already over twenty pages long; Songs of the Earth might be longer than either Images or Visions.

As I originally intended, XXVI will end with the bell theme in the piano, with the other instruments filling in the chords, bells of their own in a way – but the other instruments more the mantra of the Earth itself, the sacred, changing, Aum of the Earth… Or I should say the changing manifested harmonics of that sacred Aum. My idea at the moment is to decrescendo the bells and all other sounds, end with the strings and their quarter note motive, harmonies taken from a previous section, to lend a bit of cohesion. Hopefully XXVI will be finished and copied into the main score before this day has ended. XXVI is the second to last piece in this cycle, and XXVII is quiet and brief, almost an afterthought… In a sense all the other pieces in this cycle hinge on, and emanate from XXVI…

The bells in the piano will intensify until the end, adding notes, octaves, in both hands, The Ringing Gorges, until just a roar of sound, held in the piano sustaining pedal in the last measures, the original Aum of the Earth, the true ringing in the gorges… possibly with the strings continuing, fading. Well, that is what I see and hear now.

Decided to keep the hymn I wrote to represent the Hymn of the Earth entirely tonal – i.e. a hymn one might find in a church. William Hurley, in his beautiful and thoughtful poems, is describing Nature. Tonality effortlessly manifests from Nature, from the Earth itself: the overtone series, the result of the natural Laws of this planet we call Earth. I find that this cycle is very unlike anything I have done in the past, and yet at the same time the culmination of all I have done as a composer in the past. As often happens, I will be sorry when this work ends, when the white-out and ruler, and pencils are put away, the score all safely tucked into its legal sized manila folders… The next phase, organizing the musicians, rehearsing, learning the score myself as a pianist, concerts, recording – is no longer the deep introspection and lonely searching of the composer, nor the ecstasy. The music and the composer will enter an entirely new world once this aspect of the work is done.

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