Notes from a composer’s journal
Last week I composed a new work for piano and viola. It’s called Three Yeats Poems and is in three sections, and lasts about 15-16 minutes. This is just a first draft. The three poems by W.B.Yeats are I – News for the Delphic Oracle, II – The Wild Swans at Coole, III All Souls Night. This is not a setting of the words, but purely instrumental music.
A couple of interesting points came up during the process. When I started it my intention was to sketch some music for a viola plus string orchestra piece. I chose viola plus piano staves to sketch on so I could focus on the musical ideas without worrying about what to do with five staves of string orchestra (violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, basses). The piano has often been used as a sketch-pad by composers trying out ideas, and I guess this continues to be so even if the piano is a virtual one (on a computer notation system) rather than a physical one. (The computer piano never needs a piano tuner …).
First thing that happened was that about 5 minutes of material in, a melody turned up which simply elbowed my previous structural aims out of the picture. As a consequence I saw that my sketch was going to break into three separate pieces and not be a single span.
The second result came after 6 days, when I had some material for all three parts. I wanted to try arranging the middle section for a small orchestra. The viola melody didn’t sound right on the new instrument I’d planned, and the accompaniment had become sufficiently pianistic that I realised it would take a long time to sort out a way of doing it with a string section. Not having the time to pursue these problems I decided to leave the piece as it started: viola and piano. Maybe I’ll try turning it into a piano quartet or quintet instead. Moral of the story: when sketching on piano beware of many arpeggio figures with the sustain pedal down!
As for the viola plus strings piece, the next step will be to have those six staves open and compose onto them from the start so as to keep the idiom in keeping with strings.