Assignment 4 – A Contrapuntal Composition

Today, I completed assignment 4 which is a contrapuntal composition based and built around a couple of musical ideas. I used the ideas of Augmentation, Diminution and inversion to create this assignment. I learned about these composition techniques from analysing two of Bach’s Fugues as mentioned in my Listening Log.

A Contrapuntal Composition

The first musical idea you see is stated right at the very start. The subject is 8 bars in length and is played in the opening line on the Saxophone. The Marimba answers with a diminished version of the subject which only lasts one bar. From that diminution, I built by repeating the rhythmic phrase once. We then see the original diminished subject again in bars 6 in to bar 7 before I augment the whole phrase in bars 9-13.

Meanwhile back in bar 9 the saxophone has picked up a new rhythmic figure. This figure is related to the first diminution as though it is the same notes I have altered the rhythm in to two groupings of three. I add F#, C# and G# to lead us in to the transposition of the original subject that is now played in A major. I used this technique as a salute to J.S. Bach and his Fugue from “The Well Tempered Clavier.” (1.) While the transposed subject is being performed, the Marimba is playing a reduced version of the subject on the dominant of E using only the highlighted (accented) notes of the subject.

In bar 20, we hear an altered version of the second musical idea as played in bar 9 on the alto sax. The two groupings of three dominates this part of the composition until about bar 42. However the Marimba and saxophone take it in turns to play imitations of the second subject a performed by the marimba in bar 13. In bar 39 we hear a brief reprise of the diminished copy of the subject heard in the Marimba party during bar 2. During bars 40 – 43 we crescendo in to the return of the original subject. This is a reduced version of the subject as it only lasts 4 bars and is played on top of the altered subject from bar 17 on the Marimba.

As we get to bar 48 we hear the subject in full again. It is played on the saxophone over an inversion of the subject as played on Marimba. This inversion finishes at the end of bar 55. The marimba then takes over for two bars (56&57) giving the saxophone a quick breather by playing a briefly diminished version of the subject that lasts for only a bar before inverting in the next bar. We then hear the full original subject played again on saxophone. This is accompanied by the two groupings of three which starts from the C# the major 7th, then leads back in to the tonic where the triad of G major is played. This gives us an ambiguous feeling because the accompaniment is in the dominant G major where as the tune is being played in C major before we revert the marimba back to C major in bar 62. This is a 4 bar diminished repetition of the marimba line in bar 17 that has been transposed back in to the tonic to bring us securely to the finish of the composition.

I found that this method of composition was very tricky because I had to take one or two ideas and use those ideas to build a composition. Whilst I enjoyed the academic approach to creating this composition, I can’t say I’m particularly pleased with how it sounds. That might have something to do with the choice of the two instruments. I chose these two instruments because I saw a score for clarinet and marimba in the OCA student handbook (2) as a provided example and I wanted to see if I could make it work with a saxophone. I feel that if I was to write for woodwind and tuned percussion again I would chose a flute or clarinet to give me a more varied range for the leading woodwind instrument.

1.) J.S. Bach fugue from “Die Wohlttempiert Klavier” 953

2.) OCA student Handbook example 52

Assignments, Part 3 - Assignment

Assignment 3 – Adventurous Counterpoint

Today (29/12/2018) I finished assignment 3. an exercise on counterpoint. I called this composition “Folk Law” It is called this because of its medieval folk feel. The composition is based on 3 triads. C# minor, E minor and A major. Each section of this piece is labelled with its own rehearsal mark.

I chose three flutes as I remembered when I first heard of   J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg” concerto no. 4 (1.) how well two flutes sounds blended. They are also a good instrument for representing the medieval sound that I wanted for this particular exercise.

The start of the piece is written in C# minor. This was based on my previous task in counterpoint because I was enticingly  engaged in writing and producing this short piece of music. I wanted to expand upon what I had already written. The irregular time measures that I wrote contributed towards the medieval feel as did my choice of key signature. The first section is a nod to Jeremy Soule who is the composer of the soundtrack to “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” which is a medieval fantasy game. In that he wrote some of the folk-song’s performed by bards in the game in the minor key signature and punctuated his sentences as musical phrases. One of his pieces that stands out for me is “The Dragonborn Comes” (2.)

Section A modulates to E minor. I do this by using the Dominant B triad in second inversion. I chose to voice the chord this way because second inversion ins the least stable inversion and it meant that the intervals on the flute were easier to play. I used the scale in bar 20 to cement the tonal centre of E minor. As we enter the next section I re-introduce the rhythmic figure that we heard in bar 4 before the new rhythmic feature starts building up and accelerating from bar 26 to the 6/8 Rhythm at rehearsal mark B.

I used a dominant 7th chord to transition in to B. The VII (D) is in the top line so it stands out. This section represents a good old fashioned knees up represented by the two groupings of 3 in a 6/8 and alternation between a dotted quaver and three quaver rhythm. This is quite similar to the sort of Irish folk music that you hear. The section is based on the A major triad. A major is the sub-dominant of E minor but also the lower mediant of C# minor so as to keep the piece relevant to the original tonal centre. I use dynamics in this particular section to delegate roles to each part. The loudest dynamic would be the main melody. The Lesser dynamic would be adding harmony or a counter melody and the least dynamic provides a tonal centre for the bar to be built upon. A dramatic Ritard takes solemnly in to our next section (C).

In this section we have returned to the tonal centre of E minor and this is the slowest section of the whole composition. The Em triad I based this composition on is written in first inversion. I keep irregular time measures to maintain the context of the piece. In bar 75 I use a very similar suspension as Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer used in “One Last Shot” from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” soundtrack (3.) When we get to Bar 77 I  invert the rhythm played on the second flute in bar 76 which gives us an unsettled F natural. This statement says “get ready for a change” and then bar 78 uses the G# (dominant of C#) to augment back in to the original tonal centre of C# minor. We hear a slight reprise of the original melody for 8 bars. However the altered phrase in bar 87 changes the previous climax of the High C#s in bar 9 and places is in a much less triumphant feel only reaching the high B not quite the triumphant High C#s from before but we gradually morendo back to our very first triad of C# minor – complete in second inversion.

I thoroughly enjoyed bringing this piece to life. I challenged myself to use an array of time signatures specifically as it was a new challenge and I found that by doing so you can incorporate some really unique musical phrases. I tried to maintain strict polyphony but I notice that I have specifically used different chords in some places to punctuate phrases and particularly in section B where I have used one line as chordal accompaniment. However as the notes changed every bar. They could be used to perform longer phrases which if I were to us lyrics could be used as a significant contrasting melody line with some powerful lyrics. However I thoroughly enjoyed referencing a video game composer.


1.) Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major by J.S. Bach

2.) “The Dragonborn Comes” from “The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim” by Jeremy Soule

3.) “One Last Shot” from “Pirates of the Carribean” by Hans Zimmer/Klaus Badelt




Assignments, Part 2 - Assignment

Variations on a Waltz – Assignment 2

I wrote this piece as a clarinet solo because after two months of solo woodwind analysis, I concluded that the clarinet is, in my opinion, the most versatile instrument in the woodwind family.

In the composition, I instantly state the range I intended using throughout the composition in the 5 bar introduction.. In the same way Gordon Jacob stated the range of notes he was going to use in movement IV of his Seven Bagatelles. I stated the notes of the major scale that I was going to use the bar before A.

In section A, I show the main 24 bar theme which I variate twice. The theme itself is specifically within the comfortable register of the clarinet. The melody itself is meant to be enjoyable for both performer and audience alike. I include a characterful glissando at the end of the theme so that the performer can milk it for all its worth.

The Anacrusis of section B brings us in to the The first variation . I use the warmer lower register of the clarinet as we have transposed to B minor. This was a technique I learned from project 5. The idea of having semi-quavers in a slow passage came to me after listening to Alan Hovhaness’s Lament for clarinet solo. Part of the characteristic of the clarinet is the ability to play fast intervals and still maintain a mature level of expressiveness.

Section C focuses on the virtuosic properties of the clarinet. It has very fast passages, incorporating the use of demi-semi quavers and semi quavers. These passages are mostly written in the major scale while the accents outline the original theme. I adopted frequent use of the higher register as I aimed to keep a bright and spirited sound.

Where as I am pleased with my main theme and first variation, I struggle to enjoy variation II with such enthusiasm. I feel that there are too many fast bars and passages. I also worry that the intervals may be quite tricky and may sound a bit “muddy” when played live.

The composition follows an A, A(b), A(C) structure with a 5 bar intro where as the various changes in tempi are used to give the performers space to interpret as they like. It outlines the clarinets abilities to play both expressively in a cantabile style, as well as its ability to play virtuoso and strut its stuff.

Assignments, Part 1 - Assignment

Wild Dance – Assignment 1

Today, I completed “Wild Dance” which is a composition for four untuned percussion instruments. In my case these are the following; Cymbals, Tambourine, Snare drum and a Bass drum.

My main focus was the structure of the piece of music. The structure of my composition can be segregated in to groupings of 12 bars. The structural map is as follows;

A section: 24 bars, B Section: 12 bars, C Section: 48 bars, B section (reprise): 24 bars, A section: 12 bars

I start out with the pre-written composition (as provided by the UCA Example 14) – this begins my “A” section. This is a 24 bar long section in which the second “grouping” of 12 bars does not stray too far from the first group of 12 bars. The ideas are only rhythmically developed by adding various extra beats in varied parts of the score. The most obvious build up is the additional use of the bass drum and the use of triplets in the snare and tambourine lines. This helps me to develop a different and unique feel for the music. The use of triplets at bar 20 can be used by the dancers on stage to add a bit of personality to the dance.

Section “B” is my shortest section at only 12 bars long. In Section B I mirror image or “retrograde” the whole grouping of the piece. I enjoyed taking a mathematical approach to the composition. I have taken the original grouping of;

  • 5, 3, 6, 5,
  • 3, 4, 3, 4
  • 6, 5, 3, 6

I replace it with its new grouping of ;

  • 6, 3, 5, 6
  • 4, 3, 4, 3
  • 5, 6, 3, 5

The rhythm mostly stays the same in the first 7 bars but then after the 4/8 bar I applied the retrogade to the original rhythm while keeping some of my previously mentioned rhythmic developments.

in complete contrast to both Sections A and B, Section “C” is the longest section of the piece it is 48 bars long and makes up the bulk of the dance. I have taken the initial groupings and re-arranged theme to compose a contrasting “quiet” section where the first 24 bars is led by the tambourine and the second 24 bars by the snare drum. The majority of the new rhythms are quite different from the old rhythm but they are still based on the beats that are emphasised in the initial idea. Before the main idea and instrument are featured at the stars of each of the 24 bar passages, there as a 6 bar introduction which calls between all of the instruments. the Bass drum and snare starts and the tambourine responds. The Cymbal adds decoration. In that sense, all four instruments seem to work as one conventional “drum kit” Before the leading instrument in then introduced. This technique could be used if there was, for example, more cast being brought on to the stage to join the dance. All detail is stripped away so that the audience can focus on the stage as the new cast join.

When we get to rehearsal mark “E” on my composition we stumble across a reprise of my “B” section. However it is 24 bars long so in effect you hear it twice. The difference is that while the first 12 bars are a complete retrograde of the initial idea the second 12 bars are only a retrograde of the original groupings. So instead of;

  • 6, 3, 5, 6
  • 4, 3, 4, 3,
  • 5, 6, 3, 5

we instead have;

  • 6, 5, 3, 6
  •  3, 4, 3, 4
  • 5, 3, 6, 5

its a subtle difference, but one designed to maintain the listeners interest.

At rehearsal mark “G” we have a recapitulation of my slightly developed “A”  section which drawers my composition to a close. The piece finishes on a gloomy beam from the bass drum as something drastic happens on stage and the demons cower and disperse in to the woods.

I thoroughly enjoyed this assignment and equally found it challenging enough that it required a lot of thought. As there is no melodious instruments, I decided that I would fall back on one of the things I love about music, the mathematical side. I was completely dumbfounded when I started this task. I had no Idea where to start. However, I remembered using mathematics in one of my previous tasks to build a rhythm up. This then tweaked me and reminded me that I can use the ability of pattern recognition and creativity to develop this example further.