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Would love some feedback on this viola/piano piece

Posted By: GoldmanT

Would love some feedback on this viola/piano piece - 01/22/19 05:18 PM

It's for an entrance submission for a composition course, so I'm looking for it to be as good as it can be.

Musescore lays things out strangely in 'continuous view' but it should be fairly clear what's going on.

Posted By: Steve Chandler

Re: Would love some feedback on this viola/piano piece - 01/23/19 03:32 PM

Welcome GoldmanT to the ComposersLounge. So this piece is an entrance exam of sorts to get into a composition course. Good luck. Your piece shows ambition (16 minutes when they're probably looking for 2-3 minutes at most) and some basic skills. It also shows you have much to learn, which is why you want to take the class. My guess is you'll probably get in.

The biggest challenge for composers is coming up with strong musical ideas and editing out the weak ones. Some composers say much in a minute or two, others have a hard time being concise. The newer a composer generally the weaker the musical ideas. Your first motive isn't a bad one, it just doesn't do much (there's no reason to repeat it) and the scale in the viola doesn't help it. I realize you're trying to build slowly, but you barely get started and then you abandon it at bar 24 for something completely different. I stopped listening after a bit of that section because the Musescore rendition was too awful. I thought the musical ideas at bar 24 were stronger and if it was my piece I'd just edit out the first section. BTW, you may not have noticed but in bar 15 both instruments start the bar on the same note (B), with the viola jumping up to it. That really doesn't work for me.

After listening further, definitely edit out the entire first section. It is far too weak for your purposes. The section that starts at bar 24 is delightful by comparison. Until I get to the clusters at bar 100, ugh, what were you thinking? The music that starts after that is more weak ideas. I think you would be well served (unless they want a large scale piece as a submission for the course) to wrap it up just before the clusters. The rising figure could lead to a nice resolution and that section would show me enough that I'd accept you into a composition course.

You had the right instinct to wrap up the section about that time. The clusters were too different in style to mesh with the previous ideas. That section could serve as a nice exposition, but something different and more seamless as a transition to a B section would be the way to go. You may be thinking you need to show an awareness of newer ideas in order to get into this class. If that's the case I would write a second piece that displays that awareness (more dissonance, more crazy rhythmically). Good musical instincts lean toward cohesion within a piece of music. That means if you pick a lane stay in it unless there's a very good reason to change lanes.

When I started responding to your piece I had no intention of writing this much. The fact that I did indicates to me that you've displayed some talent and are certainly worthy of getting into the course. The piece you've posted displays many of the traits of the youthful composer, most prominently that when you get bored you go someplace completely different. Better composers know this and strive to wring their ideas dry before moving on. Make each section a cohesive unit of musical expression. That takes practice (namely writing more, much more!).

Good luck!
Posted By: GoldmanT

Re: Would love some feedback on this viola/piano piece - 01/23/19 06:17 PM

That's great, thank you for taking the time. The course just says to submit whatever you think represents your composing skills, so I might even cut and edit this up into two or three shorter bits and submit them as separate pieces, no-one would ever know. wink There are a few key ideas running through the whole thing but maybe they're not dense enough and/or good enough to sustain interest for that length of time. It's bookended by two similar sections totally different in tone which is why I started with the simple first section but I realised it was a risk.

If I was asked to identify my favourite three or four parts I could do that fairly easily, and make sure they were included in the submission. Some of the better bits are towards the end but I agree that if interest is lost early on then they'll never get heard, I've done it when listening to others' pieces myself, and with books and films for that matter!
Posted By: RogerRL

Re: Would love some feedback on this viola/piano piece - 01/29/19 01:58 AM

I find your bowing choices unconvincing, and perhaps unplayable. I don't know if the course requires you to be conversant in composing for strings, but it may be worth your while to spend some time thinking about the bowing and trying to notate that better.

Hope you don't mind my 'cut to the chase' reply, I just want you to put your best foot forward, and this jumped out at me.
Posted By: GoldmanT

Re: Would love some feedback on this viola/piano piece - 01/29/19 10:48 PM

No problem - general advice from some string players was that they would likely change bowing suggestions anyway if they weren't suitable for that particular player, so unless the composer is a string player not to get too deep into it, and to mark phrasing rather than bowing. Unless you meant the specific up/down bow markings, I only put a few of those in for specific effect. The composition course is more about the composition, they won't necessarily be expecting all the technicalities to be correct at this stage.
Posted By: RogerRL

Re: Would love some feedback on this viola/piano piece - 01/31/19 07:59 PM

I meant the slurs - for strings they indicate the entire phrase is played with the same bow direction, and it seemed like in some places you'd end up playing at the tip for no good reason. I wondered if you intended that sonic choice. In other places there were figures that seemed to be screaming out for a change in bow direction, but you had a long slur over all of them. Perhaps I just conceive of the piece differently than you. A good way to think about it is to sing the phrase. Do you use one long breath or do you inhale, either for affect or because you are running low? I don't think that translates precisely into bow work, as both needs and capabilities differ between bows and voice, but it gets you a long way in the right direction.
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