Composing and developing motifs

Right from the start, the final performance of the composition is in my mind: who will be performing it? how many parts? will there be accompaniment? what is the performance venue like? etc. Obviously many of these will change in subsequent performances (we all hope that there will be more than one performance of our compositions, don’t we?!) but I do find it useful and inspirational to be thinking about that premiere.

With this particular composition, unusually for me, I am limited to just treble voices (boy choristers), although being the Cathedral Choristers, they are very able and often split into two or three parts. The service is taking place in the crypt, and the only instrument available for accompaniment is a small one manual chamber organ with three stops (and no pedals) so this poses a few challenges, although if it were to be performed again at some point, I imagine the accompanying instrument might be significantly more versatile, so this can also be borne in mind.

Motifs

First sketches of a few ideas

The image to the left (click on it to enlarge) shows how the first few ideas are taking shape. I’ve composed a short motif for the words ‘Teach us, good Lord’, which I’ve begun to develop – in particular I felt particularly inspired to use the motif for an extended ‘Amen’ section which will eventually conclude the piece. I remember once being told to make sure when performing that you have a really good opening piece, as that will capture your audience, and a really good final piece, as that is what the audience will remember most after the performance is over; I guess that composition is similar – have a good opening that captures the listener, and leave them with a good ending that carries on in their mind after the piece has finished – a bit of an ear-worm perhaps!

Also on this page are a few ideas for how I might use the voices in certain places to vary the texture, particularly the contrast between all singing in unison and singing in two – or maybe three – parts. I’ve also given thought to how some of the harmony might develop, but this is very early days, and has come from playing a few ideas at the piano rather than giving it any structured thought.

Finally there are some ideas for how the first line of text might develop, but this is the area that I am least confident about at the moment so will want to spend some time thinking about how the ideas might develop through this. It would be very easy to set the words in such a way that the text was rushed through rather quickly, and I don’t think this is the overall effect that I am after; having taken such care in choosing some excellent words, some time needs to be given for the listener to absorb these as well.

Throughout all this, lingering in the back of my mind is the pressures of writing something that both my friend and his musical family will like, and also something that the Master of the Choristers at Canterbury Cathedral feels is worthy of spending rehearsal time on; of course it would be wonderful if he went on to incorporate it into the Trebles regular repertoire, but that might be hoping for a bit too much!

By the time I write my next post, hopefully some of these ideas will have become more structured.