This post is sort of a journal with sound, intended to record my work as I compose new pieces of music. My idea is to post recordings that reflect the end of each day of work, along with some text about what I have achieved in such day. The recordings will explain through sound what I am envisioning with the music being created, and the text will add something I feel I need to express in that way.
I am currently composing a piece for soprano solo, cello, and piano, that I am calling “Memorial.” This piece is a reflection of my response as a listener to Dido’s lament, which I have loved since the day I first listened to it. It is also my response to the phrase “remember me.” I think about it as a cry that comes from the deepest part of one’s soul. I think about it as a collective voice, because we all have a longing to be remembered.
Day 1: sometime in February
My first attempt to work with this idea of remembering and Dido’s lament is captured in the next recording. I usually start a piece by improvising, and this recording captures the improvisation used to start Memorial. I focused on two things here: the rhythmic profile of the motive “remember me,” and the chromatic descent of the lament bass.
Day 2: March
Now I have started working with the material from the improvisation, trying to organize it into motives that I can elaborate on. At this point, I still have not found a text I like. Instead, I am working only with bocca chiusa- this symbolizes for me the idea of crying out in silence, asking to be remembered but without demanding it. I have also composed more music that I ended up not using just yet. I am saving it for later.
This is the recording that correspond to this stage:
Day 3: April
At this point I am trying to push the music forward, part of the piece feels to me like it is going to stay like that, and part is being improvised still. I am thinking about the sound of the cello, so some of the new gestures are intended to be played by this instrument. I still cannot find the text that I need. I have read quite a bit, but cannot settle with any text yet. Even though the recordings are made with a piano sound, this piece is not for piano. So the recordings are a reduction of what will be the actual piece. But, I find that performing at the piano what I compose allows me to shape the music more and more, it helps me see how the piece evolves and mature. I feel I compose from a performer’s perspective as well as a composer’s perspective.
This is the recording that corresponds to this stage:
Day 4: Still April
I am realizing that working with the idea of remembering is bringing personal memories about the passing of my grandmother. My grandmother died in Cuba while I was here in the U.S. I couldn’t go to see her and say goodbye. I think that because of this I dream about her many times and always see her alive in my dreams. I think that this experience is influencing the composition of this new piece, although the big topic behind it is that of remembering: we as rememberers and our human need to be remembered, even if we don’t say it.
I have finally found the text that I want to use, and this is it:
by Christina Rossetti
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.
Finding the text allowed me to make progress faster. Now the form of the text, and the meaning, informs the music to be written.
This recording summarizes two days of work. I have gotten rid of some of the material I had in the last recording, and have move on to setting the text to music. I am still saving other material that I have composed for some other moment in the piece, although I am not completely sure I will use it.
Day 5: last day of work in April
I have set to music more of the text. I am now at the end of the first stanza. I kept the same chromatic motive to set this new part of the text, but tried to find a few chords that sounded “lighter”/more “hopeful,” as the text has the word “green” in the line “green grass,” which makes me think of spring and life. I am feeling that what follows now should be an instrumental section, featuring the cello (the piece is for soprano, cello, and piano).
The recording summarizing what I have up to this point is below:
Day 6: equals to a week of work in May
I have taken some time to work on the cello part. It has been a work of filling in the framework I had. I am happier now with the independent parts: soprano, cello, and piano. I want each part to have something to say; not merely have an accompanying role, but a combination of different roles: accompaniment, soloist, interacting in a duet or trio.
I also felt that I needed more music/more time before reaching the second climatic moment towards the end of the first stanza. I am still polishing this, but I think I found a way to prepare the arrival of this climax better.
Here is the recording of the end of the day today:
Day 7: May 13
My main goal today was to try to get as much done as possible. I made it to the end of the text. The music for the second and final stanza is rather sketched out at this point. But, it is good to have this done so now I can focus on doing the work of a sculptor, polishing things, and will probably add a transition between the end of the first stanza and beginning of the second one. I am also thinking about bringing back the second gesture in the cello, which happened at the beginning of the piece. Another aspect will be to notate this new music, and to orchestrate it so that each part is as idiomatic as possible.
I am content with the length I am anticipating the piece will have.
Here is the recording that summarizes today’s work:
Day 8: May 14-May 17
I realized that the materials I added on May 13 were not all good; there is little I will keep. But, it did serve to “break the ice” an get into “stanza 2 territory.”
I worked on adjusting the instrumentation of what I had until the end of the first stanza. I noticed that I was overusing the high register of the soprano without any particular reason, but having completed a big portion of the piece, helped me get a broader perspective and plan the soprano line in a way in which I am saving high pitches for important and later moments. It is exciting to get to see the piece from this perspective now, almost like the view one sees from an airplane looking down to the land, buildings, and cars; instead of being inside of all of this, where your vision is limited to seeing the “next step” only.
My next task was to create a cadenza for the cello, since it is my desire that the cello is as important as the soprano. I composed and listened to music for cello, including a cadenza. My second attempt to this cello cadenza is the one staying, which I am still polishing up.
Today’s recording goes from the beginning of the piece until the end of the cello cadenza:
I have more material to work with and the second stanza is taking shape nicely. My hope is to finish the fist draft of the piece by Monday at the latest, God willing.
Day 9: May 20
I have finished the first draft of the piece! And I like it 🙂 You can hear it in the recording below. The ending (after the cello cadenza) is rather sketched out, but it is almost exactly what will stay. The next step is to work on notating the new music in Finale, working on the instrumentation and the score. Thanks be to God for helping me write this new piece! Memorial is now a fact 🙂