Discussion by Yves Gourhand

I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in the Chicago suburbs the weather has been glorious for February!

Mod architecture by geralt.

Mod architecture by geralt.
CC0 Public Domain

We’ve been able to take walks outside, open the windows a bit, and our moods are certainly lifted. I know this warm spell won’t last, and we’ll probably get a March (or April) snow like usual, but I’m happy to get a bit of spring.

In deciding what piece to talk about next, I realized I have not talked about any clarinet quartets (for shame! And I’m a clarinet player!). While there are a ton of quartets out there, I chose “Discussion” by Yves Gourhand. It seems to be somewhat obscure. All the more reason to talk about it, right? At this point, I don’t actually remember how I came across this piece– whether I heard about it somewhere or I just found it while falling through the black hole of YouTube. Regardless, it captivated me.

Part of the problem with obscurity, though, is that I haven’t had much luck finding info on Gourhand. He has a few published pieces out there, all focused on clarinet (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my world!). I’d like to know more about him, and whether he working on any other pieces.

Immediately there’s a quiet intensity to the piece. The first clarinet plays a syncopated rhythm over the bass clarinet, who holds the pitch an octave lower. The rhythmic pitch rises a step, the bass still holding the original pitch, but has a quick change at the end. The intro continues similarly, with the first clarinet continuing to rise in the scale and the other clarinets joining in over time. The bass line also grows more active throughout, and the groups grows louder as they move into the first theme.

At 0:20, we begin Theme A. The first clarinet leads, with the second and third playing pulsing chords and the bass undulating underneath it all. I’m struck with imagery of a cityscape for this theme. It’s very much hustle and bustle, but a beauty within it all. At 0:27, the second and third, then the bass, have a bit of an echo to take us to the next measure. We repeat the first phrase, but listen to how the accompaniment changes at 0:33– the middle clarinets have a short moving line instead of the pulsing chords. The melody changes slightly for the last bit of this second time through.

To bridge the gap to the next theme, the bass clarinet gets a fun run up and down the instrument (0:36). Theme B is full of flying fingers, jazzy sounds, and syncopation. It’s a short theme, but energetic and wild. Of course, as a bass player, I love the great solo lick at 0:55 (It’s fun to play, too!). From there, we return to Theme A in its entirety (0:57), with just a couple of small alterations in the middle clarinets’ accompaniment and a slightly different ending.

We get a new theme at 1:16. The running line moves between the second and third, the bass has a different bass line, and the first has a more of an accompaniment role. The first does take over again around 1:24, then the group plays a syncopated line upward to finish the phrase. There are some octave jumps in the bass to bring us back to Theme A. It’s largely the same, but again he changes some of the middle parts ever so slightly. I, admittedly, did not realize this before when I rehearsed and performed it. However, I was playing the bass part, which doesn’t change during the bulk of Theme A. It’s mainly the ending that changes for that part. This time around, the bass line leads up to a held chord from everyone, signaling something different is going to happen.

We’re into a new theme at 1:54– the “slow” theme (Theme D). As with other pieces I’ve discussed, like “Overture to Candide” and “Festive Overture”, things only feel slow because Gourhand is using quarter and eighth notes, instead of the sixteenth notes and syncopation that we’ve heard until now. The underlying pulse is the same, the note lengths are just different proportions. It’s common, but very effective, composition technique. Theme D begins with the second, third, and bass clarinets in octaves. The next iteration of the theme is in the first part, with the second providing harmonic material (2:12).

At 2:29, the first continues the melody, the third takes over the harmony that the second had been playing, and the second brings in new harmonic material. Finally, Gourhand’s not quite done Theme D yet, and we get one more round of it at 2:46. The third gets to shine on the melody this time, the second goes back to her original harmonic line, and the first takes over what the second was just playing. The bass brings in a new line as foundation for the rest. At the end of the theme, there’s a slight ritard, a chord held for just a moment, and a run back itno Theme A.

We’re treated to a near note-for-note recap of Themes A-B-A. As Gourhand likes to do, he slightly changes the middle parts’ accompaniment rhythms. But largely we have the same as what we heard at the beginning (including that great little bass lick!). However, the last time through the A melody, he writes a call and answer throughout the group, rising up intensely through chromatic chords until the final chord in the soprano clarinets and a run down the bass line.

I hope you’ve enjoyed “Discussion” as much as I have. See you next time, and remember– think spring!
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Proclamation by Lori Archer Sutherland

As I was deciding what to write about next, my husband suggested I write about one of my own pieces. Namely the piece Proclamation, as it came about thanks to O Filii et Filiae, which I discussed in my previous post. After thinking about that a bit, I decided to do it. I’ll admit I’m nervous about this post. Most of my compositional works are transcriptions and arrangements, so talking about one of my original compositions in this format is outside my comfort zone. Since it’s my piece, I can’t help but talk about some of the creative process behind writing it. I’ll follow up with my normal walk-through of the piece.

After transcribing O Filii… for the horn choir, my husband asked if there was something else I could arrange as a companion piece. I thought about that, then decided I wanted to compose a new piece instead of doing another arrangement. I came up with some basic ideas somewhat quickly – it would be a short piece, anitphonal (two quartets conversing with each other), same instrumentation as O Filii…, in the same or a complimentary key, and things like that.

Cor Corps premiering "Proclamation" - April 2015

Cor Corps premiering “Proclamation” – April 2015

I did quite a bit of mulling things over in my head, playing around with ideas for melodies and rhythms. I came up with my initial theme and got some good work done on that, and played around to get an idea of my theme B. And then I got stuck. And life happened. And my piece got put to the side for a long time (as in, a few years, I’m ashamed to say). I did some other music projects during that time, though Proclamation was still in the back of my head. I don’t know how much composers talk about this kind of stuff out in the open, but I had writer’s block. And a big dose of fear. What if I couldn’t actually finish the piece? What if everyone hated it? What if…? It’s hard to put art out into this hypercritical world, where it feels like everyone demands perfection.

Eventually, I had to put aside my doubts and fear and finish the piece. I was writing this piece for my husband, and I hated the thought that it was still languishing, partly finished, for way too long. I got back into working on the piece, sometimes I felt inspired, other times I had to make myself sit down to work on it. More than once I’d think I got something going, then the next day I’d look at it again and wonder who wrote that crap. But I kept working on it. Things started to come together. I had a great sounding board in my husband. He helped me figure a few things out, especially in the transition section. I also let a trusted friend hear an early draft; he made a helpful observation about the ending, which I was able to change and make better (thanks, KJ!)

So after all that, let’s listen to how it turned out. I have more info on the creative process in the footnotes; feel free to skip those if you’d just like to read the analysis of the piece.

It begins with the first horns sending out a call, answered by the second quartet (horns 5-8). (I should warn everyone – I love funky meters, so there’s a fair amount of 5/8 and 7/8 sprinkled throughout this piece). At 0:10 the call goes out again. This time it includes the second horns, adding the thirds and fourths in the next measure. The call changes slightly in the second measure.

The second quartet answers the call, expanding the line. At 0:22, all horns join in, but only briefly. The low horns begin a line upward (0:25) that continues in the first horn to lead into the next bit. It’s a bouncy bit that grows layer by layer, until everyone is in at 0:33. The ensemble continues to grow in volume and intensity until the peak at 0:36, with the first horns at odds with the rest of the group rhythmically. The tension clears once everyone hits a big D major chord at 0:39, the low horns beating out a rhythm that slows and quiets down, leading into the B section of the piece.

For this part, there is a change in mood, but not necessarily a change in tempo. You’ll hear more quarter and half notes than in the first section, and the time signature stays in 3/4. The dynamic level is quieter. At 0:48, the second quartet leads with the melody. Listen to the first few notes – they’re the same as theme A, just in a different rhythm and mood. Horn 8 restates the quarter note pattern from 0:39, but it’s not as punctuated as before. The first quartet answers with a slightly longer phrase (0:54), and horn 4 comes in with the quarter note motif.

The second quartet restates its line at 1:04, again answered by the first quartet. But this time, their answer is a little different and much shorter. The second quartet comes in again at 1:12 in a slightly shifted key and even quieter. 1 At 1:15, we start to transition back to theme A. Listen for the layering within and conversing between the quartets here. 2

During the transition, we start with longer rhythms (dotted half notes and half notes) and work back toward the quarters and eighths we’re more familiar with from the beginning of the piece. There’s also a change from 3/4 to 2/4 (1:31), then back to 3/4 with syncopated entrances, the volume building until we reach 1:37, where we hear the familiar call from the first measure of the piece.

The form of the piece is A-B-A; what you hear beginning at 1:37 is the same as the first section. This time around, the bouncy section at 2:02 begins in a familiar way but gets an extra bump at 2:09 before pushing into the finish. Instead of the first horn working downward like it did leading into the B section, it continues higher and louder to its final D (the rest of the major chord being filled in by the other parts). The lowest horns return with their motif, but start it with dotted quarter notes before changing to quarters to propel toward the final chord from everyone.3

As with O Filii… I’m very proud of the Cor Corps and their performance. I’m thankful for the chance they gave me with this piece. I’ve done other arrangements for the group, but this is my first original work I finished for them. I’m pleased to say the piece was received well by the players and the audience. I’ve been asked to arrange this for full band for the fall, so I will be working on that very soon. That will bring a new set of challenges, but I already have ideas for accomplishing what I want to do.

And yes, I have another shameless plug: the sheet music and recording are available through Sheet Music Plus (note: this is my affiliate link which supports the blog). There are a lot of independent composers and arrangers with their work on SMP. Please consider browsing their pieces when shopping for new music!

Have a great July and I’ll see you next time on Tonal Diversions!

Update:

I did indeed arrange this for full band, and it was premiered by the Crystal Lake Community Band in May, 2016. I’m very happy with how it all went! I have the sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus (see link a few paragraphs above). Here is the performance:

  1. That bit was a part that kept wanting to be in the piece. I liked how it sounded when put up against the part immediately preceding it, but it was giving me fits because I was trying to put it in the first part of the B section, making it difficult to turn it into a full theme. Once I figured out it would work better leading into a transition, things fell into place and I started expanding the lines from 1:04 instead of trying to force the part at 1:12 to be something it shouldn’t.
  2. This section took some trial and error to get it the way I was hearing it in my head. This is where I’m thankful for my music processing program, where I can easily change things (and hit “undo” when they don’t work!) This is also where my husband’s ears came in handy – I could bounce ideas off him and get feedback.
  3. The ending went through many different iterations before I decided on this one. I feel overall it is a stronger ending than my original one.

O Filii et Filiae by Volckmar Leisring

Freising Church

The pipes of the organ in a church in Freising, Germany.

Back to the choral world for a bit for “O Filii et Filiae” by Volckmar Leisring. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with this piece lately, so it seems fitting to talk about it here. There doesn’t seem to be much information online about Leisring. He lived from 1588-1637, he’s German, and he was a composer and pastor.

 

 

 

 

 

“O Filii et Filiae” is considered an antiphonal isorhythmic motet. “Antiphonal” relates to two ensembles (in this case, choirs) performing alternately to each other, with occasional parts together. Motets were popular vocal forms in the Medieval and Renaissance ages, with the isorhythmic form developing during the Renaissance. This form is defined by a repeated rhythmic pattern. I think you’ll easily pick out the repeating rhythm in this piece.

The Latin lyrics celebrate Easter:

O filii et filiae
Rex celestis! Rex gloriae!
Alleluja!
O filii et filiae
Christus surrexit hodie!
Alleluja!

Roughly translated, it means “O sons and daughters, the king of Heaven, the king of glory, Christ is risen.”

As you listen to the piece, pay attention to the interplay between the two choirs. They do a great job of balancing between the two, and when they arrive at the “Allelujas” it’s seamless.

Two things I love about this piece are the chord progressions and the bits of syncopation (i.e. 0:33-0:35). Despite the joyous lyrics, this piece isn’t cemented in a major key. Taken on their own, the “Allelujas” are mostly minor plagal cadences (what we think of as the “amen cadence“) that just repeat quickly, unlike using it as the final end of a hymn. However, Leisring uses a perfect cadence when we reach the final time through, going from an E major chord (the fifth of our key) to a glorious A major chord (the tonic, or “home base,” of our key). By ending on A major, instead of minor, we get to hear an example of a Picardy third. This was a technique used often in earlier music to end a piece that was based in a minor key. Instead of ending on that minor chord (in our case, it would be A-C-E), the composer raised the third of the triad to make it major (A-C♯-E).

Don’t be scared off by the theory, though; just enjoy the beautiful piece Leisring composed!

After hearing this piece a number of times over the years, I realized it would transcribe beautifully for our local horn ensemble, the Cor Corps. So I did it. They premiered the piece for me in April, 2015, and I couldn’t be happier with how they performed. Please have a listen! As you can hear, we took the piece at a much livelier pace than the choir above, but I like it.

And now for a shameless plug (because if I can’t do it on my own blog, where can I?) My horn transcription, both the sheet music and the audio, is available for purchase at Sheet Music Plus. And why should the horns have all the fun? I’ve also done transcriptions for 4 horns/4 trombones and mixed brass ensemble (2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 trombones, baritone, and tuba).

Thanks for reading – see you next time!

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Pastoral by Vincent Persichetti

In mid-January, my thoughts inevitably turn to spring. I don’t mind winter to some extent (and this year has been so much better than last year’s Big Bucket of Suck), but spring is my favorite season. Everything is new again, the flowers are blooming, and we don’t need twelve extra layers of clothing in order to go outside.

Photo of a lovely spring landscape

Lovely spring landscape by stux (via Pixabay)

This March (2015) I’m looking forward to performing with the Winds Off the Lake woodwind quintet as substitute clarinet. Rehearsing with them has reminded me of my love of quintet music, and I’ve had a great time filling in. It’s been a while since I talked about woodwind quintets, so I thought this would be a nice time to listen to Pastoral by Vincent Persichetti.

Persichetti (1915-1987) produced an enormous amount of work over his lifetime, providing music for a wide variety of musicians. He wrote everything from symphonies to cantatas, chamber music to pieces for concert band. Pastoral is one of two pieces he composed for woodwind quintet. The term “pastoral” (var. pastorale) is much used in art and music to portray country life.

The flute and clarinet lead off with a lovely little duet, painting a bucolic image of green grass, some trees along a fence line, perhaps a bubbling brook running through the field. The bit at 0:32 reminds me of little birds fluttering about, or butterflies. The oboe enters at 0:46, adding a different tone color into the mix. The three instruments finish up as the bassoon emerges (0:56).

The bassoon’s short phrase begins to take us toward new ideas. At 1:00, the flute, oboe, and clarinet come in together on a chord, the first time we’ve heard a “vertical” chord as opposed to one that occurs when various melodic lines happen to come together. Immediately after this the horn finally appears, playing a manipulated version of the flute’s melody from the beginning of the piece (theme A). The bassoon answers with an echo (1:10).

At 1:14, we think we’re going back to the opening melody, this time with oboe, but we learn quickly that Persichetti is starting to explore the countryside. We hear snippets of the first few notes of the original theme, though they’re not always exactly the same. Notice that there’s a lot more motion here. Perhaps we’ve encountered some small animals, like squirrels and bunnies and chipmunks. Listen to the clarinet at 1:19 – you will hear echoes of that throughout this section played by different instruments. The flute and oboe hint at a new motif at 1:29, but don’t explore it further.

We continue to rustle and flutter about, passing themes between instruments, having the flute and clarinet united at 1:37, followed by the horn and bassoon. The flute starts to remind us of another bit of theme A, but goes off on a tangent (1:42, probably following a butterfly). We’ve had some buildup of volume here, the loudest we’ve heard so far (the score is marked forte). The horn and bassoon enter firmly at 1:47, with the upper winds answering. There’s a bit more conversation, then the flute and clarinet call our attention (though softly) to something new in our scene.

Persichetti introduces new thematic material at 1:55. To me it’s a scene change as well – I imagine we’ve moved through the grass and trees and come upon a hamlet. I can see a farmer with his horse-drawn cart, a woman hanging laundry out to dry, other odds and ends of country life. There’s more and more activity starting around 2:10; it reaches its climax at 2:20 with everyone hitting a chord together. Things quiet down quickly, though, with the bassoon singing a line followed by a neat-sounding bit at 2:28 (perhaps a sigh of relief?). The flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon strike a quieter chord to prepare us for the next section.

The oboe introduces us to our next theme at 2:33 (theme B). Remember earlier when I said the flute and oboe hinted at a theme? Here it is. We hear it on its own, with the other instruments on sustained chords. But at 2:41, the other instruments decide to liven it up, with the bassoon and horn providing a jaunty accompaniment vamp that alternates between 3/8 and 2/4 time. They settle into steady 2/4 when the flute and clarinet pick up the melody. Persichetti ends the theme a bit differently this time compared to when the oboe played it earlier, followed by a fun bounce around the group at 2:52 (Malcolm Arnold uses a similar trick in his own woodwind quintet Three Shanties).

For the second time through the theme, the flute and oboe have the melody, and the bassoon is droning at the bottom with the clarinet playing a line that’s not quite a countermelody, but it’s not a typical accompaniment pattern, either. On top of all that, the horn has a true countermelody. If you listen closely, you’ll hear that it’s very much based on theme A. I would gladly listen to more of this, but Persichetti cuts us off with a bouncy statement from the flute and clarinet (3:02). The group (minus flute) answers with a unified statement (in rhythm, not in pitch). While that sounds somewhat solemn, we’re back with our 3/8 and 2/4 right away at 3:07.

At first, we think we’re just going to repeat what we heard earlier, but Persichetti plays with our expectations. He turns part of the accompaniment into its own melody. Listen to the horn here – isn’t that fun? The clarinet answers at 3:14, beginning our transition into the next section. The flute then enters with a line that harkens back to an earlier mood, closing with a slower version of theme B, while the bassoon and clarinet drone underneath.

Slow chords lead us into a more solemn, hymn-like section, the flute playing a melody that has elements of theme A. The other instruments have long, beautifully squishy chords underneath. The bassoon gives a sort of “amen” after the flute finishes its hymn, then both of them jump to life. The flute starts a recap of theme B (4:10) then flies away, the oboe and clarinet hopping along afterward. The flute-as-bird returns briefly with the bassoon trotting underneath. Then we hear statements from the clarinet and oboe; things are getting more cacophonous when the horn has its say (4:23).

At 4:27, we hear what I feel is the most unusual part of this piece, as it’s just different from anything we’ve really heard so far. For some reason, what comes to mind for me here is an odd game of “ring around the rosie.” The game is over quickly, however, and we start to calm down. At 4:33, I get the impression of chimes, first from the oboe and clarinet, immediately followed by the horn and bassoon. They settle into slow-moving chords as the flute still dances about, but then the oboe takes over the melody, slowing things down even more. The horn makes a statement that’s similar to what the bassoon has done before to lead us into the final section of the piece.

Here we come full circle. The flute and clarinet reprise the duet that we’d heard at the beginning (4:55), this time with the horn and bassoon playing sustained tones underneath. We don’t get a full repeat; the duet slows and quiets down, the day fading away. We hear one last word from the oboe, a breath, then a gentle, quiet major chord.

Did you enjoy your trip through the idyllic countryside? Can you feel spring approaching? Stay warm through this last bit of winter, the flowers will be here before we know it.

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Bonus Features: March from Symphonic Metamorphosis

I still have the Hindemith piece on my mind, so I thought I’d share a little bit more.

I’d mentioned in my previous post that Hindemith based much of Symphonic Metamorphosis on piano duets by Carl Maria von Weber. The march for Hindemith’s fourth movement comes from 8 Pieces (Op. 60, No. 7). You can find the sheet music over at the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library.

While I couldn’t locate a piano duet on YouTube, I did find one recording of a double woodwind quintet playing a transcription of the piano piece. If you remember my post about Malcom Arnold’s Three Shanties, you’ll know that a woodwind quintet consists of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. A double woodwind quintet has two of each of those instruments.

And here’s a recording of the concert band transcription:

If you liked this piece, I highly encourage you to listen to all four movements. Preferably more than once, as there’s a lot to absorb. While I hope to talk about the other three movements eventually here on the blog, if you want to get a head start, here’s a full recording:

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