CAITLIN ROWLEY
composer

Work in progress: Carrion comfort 2

The last work in progress post on Carrion Comfort looked at the beginnings of the piece – the first composition session I spent on it. Today I’m going to skip forward a bit and look at the next point of major change to the music. Obviously, there are small tweaks going on all the time and new bits continue to be composed but mostly those are a bit dull to write about 🙂

The piece is longer now, which is probably not too surprising. And the new part introduces some new elements to the sound, most notably glissandi in the strings. My composition tutor recommended a bunch of listening for me in between the last version and this one – including Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and, more significantly for this version, Malcolm Arnold’s Trumpet Concerto.

I didn’t get around to doing very much with the Elgar, but I did give the Arnold a good listen to. Overall, I wasn’t that taken with the outer movements, but the second movement, the Andante con moto, I really liked. Again, it’s a space issue – he makes beautiful use of barely-supported solo lines in this movement, especially in the trumpet and flute, and the whole thing is wonderfully still and aetheral. I haven’t been able to find a video or other generally available audio file online of this piece, but it’s on Spotify, if you have access to that in your country. There’s also a deeply inadequate 20-second snippet on iTunes. Anyway, after listening to this piece several times over, I became somewhat enamoured of the idea of the solo line and barely-there accompaniment, which resulted in, in particular, the flute line at the end of today’s version. I’m not 100% sure it works in context, but it achieved a few different things, simply by writing it.

The first thing was to pull me away from the stop-start nature of what I’d been writing before it. It’s the first time where a part has a section of any length to play and got me thinking a bit more about permutations of the thematic material I’d started with. It also made me start to think about which instruments I wanted to be prominent within the piece, why and how they might interact. As a flautist and singer my thinking tends to run in lines, and harmony is something that happens more or less by accident. I don’t think this is an ideal situation, and it’s one I’m working on, but nevertheless, it’s how I work right now.

The big change to this version though, was to do with the text. While Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Carrion Comfort was perfect for the mood I wanted to create, and the opening words had fitted into my opening vocal parts perfectly, I pretty soon ran into difficulties: My setting was becoming a bit stop-start and not terribly effective; Also, at the rate I was setting it, the piece was going to be 2 hours long unless I did some serious text-cutting, which I didn’t want to do; and I was beginning to feel a bit hampered by it because I didn’t want this piece to be epic (except in the sense of ‘awesome’ 🙂 ), I wanted it to be small and passionate and concentrated. Being the first real orchestral piece I’ve ever written, too, I wanted to be able to work within a manageable canvas and have a hope of being able to finish it during the scope of my lessons – which were supposed to end at the beginning of June – so that I could reap the benefits of having a teacher guide me throughout the whole of the piece’s composition. I also had dim hopes of maybe being able to use it in a portfolio for a Masters degree application, which would mean having to have it finished by about August.

So I thought a bit, and re-read the poem and thought some more about how I could fix this and finally came up with the decision to delete the voice and replace it with a trumpet. I wanted a sound that would cut through the other timbres, and I also wanted to have a bit more of a brass “choir” in there, rather than the horn and trombone duo I started out with – it just gives more possibilities, I think, when playing the different sections off each other, to be able to at least use 3-part harmony in an all-brass bit.

I’m really very happy with the vocal replacement. The trumpet I think works really well. I’ve also been a little daring (for me) and included a moment with mute, which I’m hoping to draw on more later, and the stridency of the muted trumpet harks back well to the agonised passion of the poem.

The poem’s still there, still a big influence on the piece – and I’m still planning on calling it Carrion Comfort – but it’s more of a background to the piece rather than having any specific interaction with it, with the exception of certain rhythmic elements which have been taken from the text rhythms.

I’m changing format to use video today because I wanted to start to show you the score as well as the audio, just because I think it makes things clearer. The video is best viewed full-screen to be able to see the detail of the notes. If it’s a bit fuzzy, and your system can handle it, you’ll need to switch to HD: Switch to ‘Watch on YouTube’, then click on where it says “360p” or “480p” or similar, and choose “720p – HD” then go to full-screen again – this should clear it all up.

I hope you enjoy it and look forward to your gentle constructive criticism in the comments 🙂

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