Study for two violins and two violas

Study for two violins and two violas

My previous post was about how I ‘find’ my ideas, and the techniques I use to do so. As you can probably tell, I’m not one who has a lack of ideas. That’s not to say they’re all good ideas, but nevertheless, the initial sparks come easily.

When ideas come quite readily, you’re faced with another problem: spacing. I am often guilty of trying to use and explore too many ideas within a piece, when fewer would be more effective. We can have countless ideas, but if we implement too many in one work it dilutes the power of each and every idea. This was something I spent a lot of time working on during my MMus – the idea of simplification. It was at this time that this study came into being, written between October and December 2009. Although it was written 18 months ago (time flies!), I still feel this study is very relevant to my current voice and compositional development – not least because I’m still trying to ensure I don’t pursue too many ideas in any one work.

During the early stages of the study’s composition, I was still trying to incorporate too many ideas, and I have countless versions of the piece in various stages of its development. I shall definitely have to scour some of the earlier versions to see what other avenues I was exploring – some might be worth revisiting! Another reason for its existence of this piece was that I realised I hadn’t spent much time working with strings (as a composer) other than in ensemble settings. I put this partly down to the fact I have played instruments from all of the other instrumental families. This study was an aim to break that trend – which it did well.

When writing the melodic material, I limited myself to five notes. These can be clearly heard in the first excerpt below. The study also demonstrates my love of both complex time signatures, and mixed meters (the former moreso). Both add tremendously to the character of the piece, and keep the audience guessing!

The first excerpt is from the beginning of the piece, which starts with pizz, before progressing to arco later, then returning to the pizzicato. It is quite quirky, and builds in texture quickly. The second excerpt joins the second section of the piece, where the legato is in full flow. The thematic material is the same as that explored earlier in the piece, and/or derived directly from it. At the end of this excerpt is the beginning of a retrograde section – another method I was experimenting with to try and fully exploit ideas, rather than scratch the surface and move on at speed. The third excerpt features the short section of the work where it suddenly modulates to a major key, briefly, before returning to the original theme, mixing arco with pizzicato, but returning to its pizzicato roots.

The realisation below was recorded using Sibelius Sounds – hence the ensemble sound for solo instruments (oops!).

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