Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Links: Lyric Arts Forum posts audio for my sonata for flute and guitar; Youtube video of my sonata for oboe and guitar, 1st movement
The above link is to the two movements from my sonata for flute and guitar.  I had to record the work on a steel-stringed instrument because I didn't own a classical guitar at the time.  The flute sonata was an idea I took on because I'd been advised by a teacher to write for the musicians you actually know, not for the idealized ensembles you'd like to play your music.  In fact the flute sonata did not even begin as a flute sonata.

The flute sonata began as a guitar sonata with the first movement but something felt off.  I felt that nothing was tuneful enough in the guitar part.  So I sat down one day and decided that I needed to add a flute part and to do that I just started playing through the guitar part and whistling as I played until I found something I liked.  I then went back and revised the guitar part in light of the flute part and refined the first movement until it became what you can hear on the audio file. 

As you'll discover when you listen to the flute sonata's first movement I committed to a monothematic sonata form.  I did this because my teacher told me that monothematic sonata forms are harder to write.  I wanted to do whatever the harder thing to do was.  But I also came to the conclusion that a monothematic sonata form would provide a compositional process that would help me discovers ways in which to blur the distinctions between classical, jazz, blues, and pop. 

As I began to work on the sonata I discovered that a recapitulation in a monothematic form leads to
the main theme being stated four different times.  I began to appreciate why Haydn would frequently continue developing his themes even in recapitulation.  I resolved to do the same thing.  Only what could I do that would both continue developing my one theme yet also wind down the momentum of the sonata as a form? 

My solution was to have the theme played in retrograde on both the flute and the guitar.  If you were to look at the score for the first movement you'd see that I just go note for note in reverse where "theme 2" would appear in the recapitulation.  I settled on this approach because of the predominantly mixolydian cast of the primary theme.  Since there's no leading tone as there normally would be in a major scale mixolydian lends itself nicely to retrograde.  We can think of it as a more chipper form of dorian without being quite so symmetrical as a scale.  Now I'm sure someone else must have composed a sonata form in which a monothematic approach is sued and the one theme is played both forward and backward in a recapitulation.  I just couldn't tell who that person is.  But one thing I do know is that in my sonata having the theme recapitulate fowards and then backwards before having a codetta seemed like the right way to go.

The second movement is a very simple passacaglia.  I began sketching this idea very far back, probably around 1998 or so and I was immersing myself in the works of Takemitsu and Villa-Lobos at that point.  Or maybe it was Bach, and Prokofiev?  My memory is getting fuzzy on that.  I just remember spending a lot of time refining the passacaglia and this was where I went through it with my flutist and made several changes in the score based on her suggestions.  By the time the sonata was done she'd made some valuable suggestions that became the basis for revamping the second movement.   

After I wrote the sonata for flute and guitar I got the idea that it should have a companion piece.  When I completed the flute sonata I thought it would be fun to give to some friends of mine to play.  These friends had been married for a while and the husband plays guitar and the wife plays flute.  The husband played electric guitar rather than classical and didn't feel comfortable tackling a classical guitar piece.  He did, however, play the oboe, English horn, and I think maybe baritone?  His wife and I recorded the sonata for flute and guitar linked to above ten years ago (I think).  But this left me thinking my original goal of writing music that could include both of them had been left incomplete.

That's when I got the idea that I ought to just write a sonata for oboe and guitar.  He and I could play that piece together and by composing a sonata for oboe and guitar I would be writing a companion piece for the flute sonata, a companion piece that was that on as many levels as could be possible.   By the time I finished the sonata for oboe and guitar I realized that I should just go for broke and tackle a duo sonata pairing the guitar up with every instrument I could think of.

The oboe sonata took several years to finish and I started working on it almost as soon as I finished the flute/guitar sonata.  Because it is a companion piece to the flute sonata I resolved that the oboe sonata would operate in a similar mood and have a similar set of procedures and concepts.  I had written a sonata for the flutist wife and so I wanted to create a sonata that captured my impressions of the oboe-playing husband.  And, of course, I was also playing around with ideas that are what I'm into.  So I completed the work over the course of four years. 

This is the first movement from my sonata for oboe and guitar.  The Swede and his comrade were kind enough to play the first movement a few years ago.  The other three movements, as yet, have not been performed but it's not an easy sonata for the guitar. My hope is the sonata as a whole will get a premiere and some exposure. 

There's some wonderful repertoire already written for oboe and guitar but I'd like to see a world in which Coste's sweet duets for oboe and guitar are not the ONLY standard works for the instrument.  We could use more ensembles playing David Evan Thomas' wonderful Sonata for oboe and guitar, for instance.  Andrew Hallyday (sic?) has written a marvelous piece for oboe and guitar called "The Widow, the Orphan, and the Immigrant" for the Mountain Music Duo.  And, yes, I'd also like my sonata to get some play time, too.  My hope is that the best years for oboe/guitar repertoire are still coming along.  I've seen some cute Youtube videos of oboe/guitar adaptations of Weezer and I've got to say that Weezer for that instrumental combination works out nicely.

As I wrote at some length elsewhere in this blog I've been inspired to tackle chamber music for the guitar partly because I've loved ensemble music-making pretty much all my life, and also because I read a transcript of Matanya Ophee's "Repertoire Issues" lecture. That was a eureka moment for me.  I'd spent years singing in choirs.  I'd spent a year or two in a little guitar/cello/harmonic trio that was fun.  I was, at the time, in a rock trio.  I was also wrapping up a sonata form for a string quartet.  I was like someone struck by the lightning of a great idea, it seemed I was already doing pretty much ensemble music in all my musical work and why not just keep that approach going by adding chamber music for classical guitar?  Even though I've had fun composing preludes and fugues for solo guitar

So, after all that blather, here's the Youtube link to the Swede playing movement 1 from my sonata for oboe and guitar.  He and the oboeist did a very good job playing my piece and I'm very grateful to them for playing the first movement, video-taping it, and posting the video to Youtube.

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