Academic Compositions for Violin - Integral Serialism

October 2, 2020, 11:19 PM · Tonight, I finished my first composition assignment for our first unit of my class on music post-1945. Yes, it's a composition, but because it's for school I didn't really want to put it on my website. Plus, I wrote it for myself to play on the violin - two parts, in fact - and I thought it would be fun to informally chat about my process and what this piece was. I'm just feeling very excited about my musical academic studies at the moment, and combining it with my instrument has been really great, even if I'm not studying violin at a graduate level, it's more for fun.

We have been discussing integral serialism with composers like Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, to name a few. Our composition project (paired with an analysis project and an exam, like my counterpoint class I took back in the spring) was essentially to write a piece using methods and/or inventing our own by these composers of the '40s and '50s.

I knew I wanted to write for two violins, and I knew I would try and record it from the start. (Other possibilities were piano solo, piano and solo instrument, or two instruments.) Due to being stuck inside all-day, I opted to just record from my room - although I hope to start utilizing the recording studio we have (Studio A and Studio X), so perhaps I will record from the School of Music, of course keeping COVID guidelines in mind!

To greatly simplify things, I took a row (a collection of twelve pitches without repeating any) that by design highlights major sevenths, perfect fourths, and minor thirds (and all their inversions). I then made a matrix of these notes like Schoenberg. Next, I converted the intervals of sevenths and fourths to rhythm, choosing whether to include a long-short or short-long idea based on if the higher index number in each dyad is divisible by 2. I assigned articulations to each note (pizzicato, spiccato/staccato, legato/arco) and dynamic levels to each articulation (forte, mezzo-forte, piano respectively). The articulations were fun because I could show off some of the very basic techniques a violin can do - I couldn't make it too complicated, because I expected myself to play it! Finally, I let these rows run in a specific order so they would alternate prime form and retrograde, until we got through the entire thing.

I wrote the piece throughout this week, practiced it over the last couple days in my spare time, and spent literally the entire day today recording the piece, editing my mix, and writing all my analysis notes to turn it in - so ending my night with this blog post while all this is fresh in my head. The whole time I was playing, I had to count eighth notes for my life! The rhythms were never straightforward, although I got used to my pattern somewhat eventually. I had GarageBand's metronome clicking away eighth notes, and I did several splices. So the recording does not represent a true performance of the work in how it would sound in a concert hall, but rather my way of splicing things together for the digital archive - and to not waste time trying to get it right when it's due tonight! :P


Our second module starts with John Cage, and is looking to be quite different, talking about the New York School of the '50s and getting into new ideas of Futurism and machines in music. Depending on what that composition project is (I believe I will have written it by November), I might share it as well.

I am also taking a dance and music class, where I have composed music (both for my violin and trying out the BBC Symphony Orchestra instrument patch I got from Spitfire Audio) to accompany dance or for dance to be choreographed to. These projects have also been pretty fun as well, and potentially another topic I could write about in the future on the nature of collaboration (very much like Cage :P) - we'll see!

Anyways - I hope this was interesting, and here's a video with the piece! Thanks for reading!

And it's nice to reward myself watching some of the BBC Radio 2 House Music videos with Andrew Roachford singing a couple tracks with the BBC Concert Orchestra (pre-recorded videos all mashed up), and the Philharmonia Orchestra's behind the scenes on their Philharmonia Sessions I've been watching, like the strings playing Vaughan-Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

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