Composer’s Log: July 17, 2017

Since my last Composer’s Log, I’ve mostly been adding accompaniments to vocal lines that I had already sketched and making revisions to some problem areas.  I’ll be honest: the vocal lines always come easier for me than the accompaniments.  The accompaniment goes a long way toward giving a song or section its unique character, and since my music is so motivic, I have to really pay attention to crafting the non-melodic layers in a way that creates a distinct character.  But then again, the different parts of an opera (or song cycle) need to feel like they are part of a unified whole, so it’s an intricate balancing act.

In my previous post, I wrote about how the accompaniment to Pierre’s aria (above) is based on the main motive of his vocal line.  Through changes of register (and when I orchestrate the opera, changes of timbre) plus some basic variation techniques, I was able to use that material through the ca. 2-3 minute aria, keeping up a consistent feeling of nervous energy throughout.  Similarly, leitmotifs from the vocal lines appear in the accompaniment of the other sections I have been working on, adding undertones to the meaning of the sung text.

In addition to providing motives that I can incorporate into the accompaniment, the material I’ve sketched for the singers also has set up the harmonic world.  It will shift in some places to reflect changing moods, states of mind, and physical locations, but the basic framework is in place. The music is tonal in the sense that certain pitches form centers of gravity, but it doesn’t follow many of the tonal norms you might find in the Classical or even Romantic eras. The pitch language is largely chromatic, with an emphasis on minor seconds and minor thirds (sometimes combining to form hexatonic scales).  Certain pitches or intervals have taken on referential meanings and play a role in controling the progressions of chords and tonal centers.  (If you’re curious, B-flat represents Marie and D represents Pierre – but that may get shifted as I work with the singers who will be premiering the opera.)

Even with the different elements that I can take from the vocal sketches, there still comes a point where the accompaniment needs its own life.  Sometimes, that can come from the story. The snippet, for example, above is a draft of music representing the waves in which Marie and Irene float.  In other cases, the impulse might be purely musical or practical in nature—chords punctuating a recitative, giving rhythmic articulation and providing pitch support for the singer.  And more rarely, inspiration comes without any clear origin.  There’s a few spots where I am still waiting for that to happen, so hopefully I’ll be able to fill those in soon!

As of this weekend, I have a complete draft of Pierre’s aria, sketches of the vocal lines for both surrounding duets with Marie, and some of the accompaniment for the duets drafted.  My plans are to continue filling in the accompaniments for the duets and work on Marie’s arias that introduce and conclude her sequence with Pierre.  There’s also an aria for Irene later in the opera that most likely will be related to Pierre’s, so that may be on the docket soon as well.

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