A sample of the 1st Movement of “Alfheim”

While nowhere near finished, I thought I’d post what the sketches of the first movement sound like.  There’s a large chunk missing near the beginning.  I’m sure that there are some large cuts that I need to make.  Honestly, the sound files were so large that before last night, I had never heard all the notes of the piece together.  At any rate, here’s part of “Alfheim.”

https://soundcloud.com/bretnewton/symphony-2-alfheim-movement-1

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Alfheim – making the big cut

I did something drastic today.  I cut about 4 minutes of music from the first movement of my symphony.

One thing I learned from writing my novel, is that deletion is sometimes your friend.  By deleting, you are able to bring out what is really important.

The goal is the piece is somewhat of a mixture of impressionistic, Debussy-like, ethereal sounds mixed with the fullness of a Wagnerian brass.  Ninety percent of what  I’d written fell into this.  The middle of the 1st movement didn’t.  It was regular, repetitive, and predictable.  It didn’t fit in with the rest of the music.  I like it and could use it for another piece, but not this one.

The section was intended to be representative of the sea, but I realized that the entire 4th movement is a sea voyage, that this section would be redundant.

Plus, a section that featured Contrabass Saxophone and Steel Drums felt weird.

Performance Notes

As I continue to work on my 2nd Symphony, I have begun to draft a series of performance notes.

Symphony 2 “Alfheim”

Performance notes

It is very apparent to the composer that this work poses many challenges and uses unconventional instrumentation and orchestration.

At its heart, “Alfheim” is an exploration of a new world, both in the storyline of the symphony and in the new ensemble techniques used here.  Here I shall attempt to explain some of these oddities.

Instrumentation

All parts are one player to a part.

Flutes

There are in total 8 flute parts.  Each appears on a separate staff in the full score.  All 8 players are required to play at least two members of the flute family.  No member of the section can be thought of as the principal players.  Players 1 and 2 primarily play Piccolo.  Players 3 and 4 primarily play C Flute.  If a principal player were designated, it would be player 3.  Players 5-8 primarily play the lower flutes.  Players 4 and 5 are the only members to play three instruments (4 = Piccolo, C Flute, Baritone Flute; 5= G Treble Flute, C Flute, Alto Flute).  I use a nonstandard nomenclature for the flute family.  Starting at the C Flute and going lower, I designate the flutes as thus:

  • C Flute
  • Alto Flute
  • Tenor Flute (Bass Flute)
  • Baritone Flute (Contra-alto Flute)
  • Bass Flute (Contrabass Flute)

I do this because of the mess that ensues with the newer low flutes now being constructed and the absurdity of have four “contra” flute but no tenor or bass.

Recorders

There are four recorder parts in the symphony.  Each player must have at their disposal a full complement of recorders.  In general, player one will play the higher instruments (Garklein, Sopranino, Soprano) while player 4 will play the lower (Bass, Great Bass, Contrabass).  Recorder players, unless specified, should play without vibrato.

Oboes

The oboe section shows some oddities.  Players 1 and 2 only play Oboe.  The only doubling parts are parts 3 and 4.  Player 3 plays Baritone Oboe while player 4 plays Bass Oboe.  A word about these two instruments: a Baritone Oboe, in this work, is an instrument that is pitched one octave below the Alto Oboe (English Horn), while the Bass Oboe is an instrument that is pitched one octave below the Tenor Oboe (Bass Oboe).  As these two instruments have yet to be constructed, there are some possible substitutions.  A Lupophone, a bass oboe that descends to a low F2, may be used – in fact it is encouraged to be used – to cover the Baritone Oboe part.  A Bassoon, is probably the only option to cover the Bass Oboe part.  If possible, a French Basson is preferred.  This solution will, more than likely, require a second player.  Players 5 through 8 all use non-standard nomenclature.  A Mezzo-Soprano Oboe is an Oboe d’Amore, an Alto Oboe is an English Horn, and a Tenor Oboe is a Bass/Baritone Oboe.  This nomenclature is needed due to the two extreme instruments.

Clarinets

Unlike most band works, this work is required to have only one player on a part for all the clarinet parts.  There are enough soprano clarinet parts (8 in total) to supply most bands with players for one per part.  The use of C, B-flat, A, and G Clarinets is mandatory.  Under no circumstance should another instrument be substituted.  The F Alto Clarinet is in reality a Basset Horn with extension down to low C.  The E-flat Alto should never be used.  Clarinets should never use vibrato.

Saxophones

Each saxophone part is important and individual.  The F and C saxophone parts (C Soprano, F Alto, and C Tenor) should, wherever possible, be played on those exact instruments.  Those parts are designed for the lighter sound of the smaller instruments.  Wherever possible, all saxophones must use a large, round-chambered mouthpiece.  The sound of the small, square-chambered mouthpiece is antithetical to the sound of this work.  The Contrabass and Subcontrabass parts may be played by a full sized instrument or a compact Tubax.  All saxophones should use vibrato sparingly (exposed solos only).

Bassoons

This 8-member section presents two problems, the Semi-Contrabassoon and the Subcontrabassoon.  The former, as it currently is not in production, can be taken by a combination of Contrabassoon and Bassoon.  The latter is being written in conjunction with the development of such an instrument and is designed around the instrument in development.

Sarrusophones

These five parts are not obligato or substitutes for other double reed instruments.  These instruments form a cohesive unit akin to the Wagner Tuben in the brass section.

Horns

There are no special instructions here save for the fact that players 5-8 must double Tenor and Bass Wagner Tuben.

Cornets

This section needs no special notes.  Vibrato should be used vary sparingly.

Trumpets

These 6 parts are all required to play multiple instruments.  Under no circumstances, should another instrument be substituted for the one prescribed.  The only exception to this is the player’s choice of using an E-flat Alto Trumpet in lieu of an F Alto Trumpet due to both instruments being uncommon.  No vibrato should be used on any instrument.

Trombones

The Baritone Trombone is, by my own designation, an old fashioned G Bass Trombone as used in the U.K.  As this instrument is rare nowadays, it can, in a pinch, be played by a small bore Bass Trombone or a large bore Tenor Trombone (assuming the other Tenors use smaller bore instruments).  In use, it is meant to be lighter than the Bass Trombones but heavier than the Tenors.

Tubas

The Flügelhorns are treated as soprano tubas.  The “Alto Tuba” part is designed for a wide bore marching Mellophone in F.  This instrument best fits as an Alto Flügelhorn.  It should never be played with a Horn mouthpiece with adapter.  Bass and Contrabass Tubas must be played on F/E-flat and C/B-flat instruments respectively.  The Bass Tuba parts are intended to be lighter in nature than the Contrabass Tuba parts.

Alfheim – Orchestration update

With school testing season and bird migration season (my other hobby) underway, I haven’t had much time to work on my symphony.  Currently, I’ve been working on it for about 1 year now.  There are about 35-40 minutes of music completely done and orchestrated.  With that said, I’ve updated the ensemble from what I originally planned.  Here is the current lineup:

8 Flutes

  1. C Flute and Piccolo
  2. C Flute and Piccolo
  3. C Flute and Piccolo
  4. C Flute, Piccolo, and G Baritone Flute
  5. C Flute, G Treble Flute, and Alto FLute
  6. C Flute and Alto Flute
  7. C Flute and Tenor Flute
  8. C Flute and Bass Flute

4 Recorders

  • Required so far: Garklein through Great Bass

8 Oboes

  1. Oboe
  2. Oboe
  3. Oboe and F Baritone Oboe
  4. Oboe and Bass Oboe
  5. Mezzo-Soprano Oboe
  6. Alto Oboe
  7. Alto Oboe
  8. Tenor Oboe

17 Clarinets

  • 1 A-Flat Clarinet
  • 2 E-flat Clarinets
  • 2 C Clarinets
  • 4 B-flat Clarinets
  • 2 A Clarinets
  • 2 F Alto Clarinets
  • 2 B-flat Bass Clarinets
  • 1 Contra-Alto Clarinet
  • 1 Contrabass Clarinet

12 Saxophones

  • Piccolo Saxophone
  • Sopranino Saxophone
  • C Soprano Saxophone
  • B-flat Soprano Saxophone
  • F Alto Saxophone
  • E-flat Alto Saxophone
  • C Tenor Saxophone
  • B-flat Tenor Saxophone
  • Baritone Saxophone
  • Bass Saxophone
  • Contrabass Saxophone
  • Subcontrabass Saxophone

8 Bassoons

  • Alto Bassoon
  • F Tenor Bassoon
  • 3 Bassoons
  • Semi-Contrabassoon
  • Contrabassoon
  • Subcontrabassoon

5 Sarrusophones

  • Alto Sarrusophone
  • Tenor Sarrusophone
  • Baritone Sarrusophone
  • Bass Sarrusophone
  • E-flat Contrabass Sarrusophone

8 Horns

  • 4 Horns
  • 4 Wagner Tuben (=4 Horns)

8 Cornets

  • 1 E-flat Cornet
  • 3 B-flat Cornets
  • 2 Alto Horns
  • 2 Baritone Horns

6 Trumpets

  1. C Trumpet and Piccolo Trumpet
  2. C Trumpet and Piccolo Trumpet
  3. C Trumpet
  4. B-flat Trumpet
  5. B-flat Trumpet and F Alto Trumpet
  6. Bass Trumpet

8 Trombones

  • 1 Alto Trombone
  • 3 Tenor Trombones
  • 1 G Baritone Trombone
  • 2 Bass Trombones
  • 1 Contrabass Trombone

10 Tubas

  • 3 B-flat Flügelhorns
  • 1 F Alto Flügelhorn/Mellophone
  • 2 Tenor Tubas
  • 2 Bass Tubas
  • 2 Contrabass Tubas

2 TImpani

Percussion as needed (numbers not yet set)

Piano

Celesta

2 Harps

Organ

Wordless Male Chorus

8 Double Basses

With this setup, I’ve deleted a few instruments (4th Flügelhorn and 2nd Mellophone, all guitars and mandolins, etc.), but I’ve added the sarrusophones and F and C saxophones.

With these changes, I’ve found that I write completely differently for the F and C saxophones than I do for the E-flat and B-flat instruments.  I’m using the sarrusophones for sinister effects (like one would with trombone pedals).

Alfheim – Movement 1

Slowly, but surely, I am making progress on composing my massive 2nd Symphony.  Movement 1 is about half written and orchestrated.

The concept of the symphony is to portray a representation of the mythical world of Alfheim, the Norse home of the elves.  Movement 1 is all about the creation of the world.  Currently, there are 6 sections to the movement.

Section 1 – The Void.

Before the world is created, there is nothing.  This section is completely based on a C minor chord with few non-chordal tones.  It slowly undulates through the lowest registers of the band.  The very first note of the symphony is uttered as the lowest tone of the Bass (Contrabass) Flute.  The rest of the low instrument take it in turn to arpeggiate and flutter on the tones of the c minor chord.  Out of the void is heard the chorale of the “gods” intoned by 4 Wagner Tuben.  This is the first motif heard in the entire symphony.

This section is complete.

Section 2 – The Sunrise

From the gloomy void in C minor, there is a sudden outburst of shimmering B major.  The sun has risen over the new world, and day and life have begun. The majority of this section will form the basis of movement 4.  This section is only sketched in part.  New motif here: the sun/day/life.  Eventually, this theme will be re-envisioned into the theme of hope/triumph (Movement 3).

This section is only sketched.

Section 3 – The Mountains

The Mountains are the first of the landscapes created.  They are the towering monuments of the world.  They are grand and imposing.  This will be the only section of the first movement to use the full strength of the entire band all at once.

This section is still in development.

Section 4 – The Caves

Underneath the mountains lie the unknown voids of the great caverns.  At the same time, they are imposing, awe inspiring, and frightening.  The sounds will all be focused on a single pitch with only micro variations to that pitch.  The sounds will be coming from the entire brass section muted (harmon mutes where possible0 and the very lowest tones of the woodwinds (contrabass clarinets, Contrabassoon and Subcontrabassoon, and Contrabass Sarrusophone).  Light metallic percussion will serve to give an accompaniment to the monotony of the cave.

This section is still in development.

Section 5 – The Forest

Out of the monotony of the Cave we come to the lush and mysterious forests.  Here the sound of the clarinets is foremost.  The Alto Clarinets lead the way, followed by the A Clarinets.  The low flutes counter this.  Underneath everything is the undulation of the harps and saxophones supported by the solemn chordal structure of the trombone ensemble.  Out of this background texture, solos appear from the E-flat Cornet, the G Treble Flute, and the Baritone Oboe.  The melody played on the Baritone Oboe will become the motif of the forest and will be heard throughout the symphony.  Against this is a pulsating rhythm of the bassoon choir, which supports yet a new motif (magic/mystery) which is intoned by the Tenor Bassoon and Sopranino Saxophone in double octaves.  The forest is full of wisdom, both good and evil.  Eventually, the theme of magic/mystery is shouted out by all the low voices indicating a level of malicious intent.  This fades away though into 4 sweetly trilling recorders that slowly give way to the final section.

This section is fully composed and orchestrated.

Section 6 – The Stars

Finally, the stars of twilight come out and bathe the world in their otherworldly light.  Here we are firmly in E major, a distant key from our home of C minor.  The sound shimmers.  Both underneath the band and on top there are held tone clusters while the metallic percussion (2 Vibraphones, Crotales, and Chimes) show the individual lights of the stars.  Finally, we have out first long solo.  It is the Tenor Bassoon which first gave us the melody of magic/mystery.  It is the first elf to awaken under the stars.  The innocence and naivety of the tone quality of the Tenor Bassoon along with its unusual nature make it the perfect sound for the waking up of life.  Along our first creature’s journey, he meets other companions who join in his discovery of the world under the stars.  Eventually, all is at peace, and the movement ends with the sounding of gentle E major chords.  However, the tone clusters that give the shimmering effect are still present giving the peace an uneasy feel.

This section is fully composed and orchestrated.

Thus, the movement ends.  The world has been awoken.  Life is new.

As it stands now, I have 3 sections complete, 1 sketched, and 2 only concepts for.  What has been completed is already 15 minutes long.

Movement 2 has no material written

Movement 3 has only a few basic sketches

Movement 4 is complete

There may or may not be a Movement 5.

The one thing a band can’t do.

I’m in the process of writing my 2nd Symphony right now.  It’s going surprisingly well.  What I’ve discovered is that I wrote many of the sections some years ago, but for a different medium.  There are two parts in particular.  The entire finale of the symphony and the end of the 1st part (I hesitate to call it the 1st movement, as the whole symphony is one long, continuous work).  What I’m basically doing is cannibalizing two earlier works (Hy Brasil and my Symphonic Poem for Tenor Bassoon and Orchestra).

Herein lies the problem.  Both of these works have extensive parts for strings.  Hy Brasil, in particular, has over 10 minutes of etherial, floating undulations in the upper strings.  At a pianississimo dynamic, this is almost impossible to transcribe for winds.

Almost.

Here’s where the mega-ensemble comes into play.  I’ll walk you through some of my thoughts on how to do it.  There are only a few instruments capable of playing the notes I wanted: flutes, oboes, upper clarinets, and upper saxes.  Oboes and saxes are out.  Their strident tone cannot give the needed effect.  Clarinets might work, but their sound is too pure.  I need complex overtones.  Here’s where having 8 flutes is handy.  I’m able to divide the four string parts (Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, and Cello) among the 8 flutes, one on a part, but alternating between the players so that only 4 musicians are playing at any one time.  By trading off, I can also have the musicians switch instruments to give them the most comfortable playing register and to change up the sound.  Flutes 1 and 2 go between C Flute and Piccolo frequently.  Flutes 5 and 6 go between C Flute and Alto Flutes with the same regularity.  The trading off also gives the players a few measures of rest to regain their breath.

In addition to the 8 flutes, I also have 4 recorders doubling the parts at pitch.  The four players are using Sopranino, Soprano, Alto, and Tenor Recorders.  With only four players, I cannot give them the same breath pauses that the flutes get.  However, I have personally played through all the parts and can manage them with ease on the specified instruments.

The combined effect of 8 flutes and 4 recorders gives a more complex tone than just the flutes alone.  It won’t have the complexity of an entire string section, but the similarities are there.

To give more complexity to the sound, I then added 4 saxophones (E-flat Alto, C Tenor, B-flat Tenor, and Baritone) playing the chordal structure of the flute/recorder parts.  The saxophones are all playing in their upper most (non-altissimo) register.  The saxophone sound will give the complex overtone series of the stings.  Because they are in their highest register, their sound can be more easily controlled at the pianississimo dynamic.

For these passages, all other parts are exactly like in their orchestral counterpart.  So what is simple in an orchestra, takes 8 flutes, 4 recorders, and 4 saxophones, to approximate with the same sense of feeling in a wind group.  For me, light delicate, ethereal textures are the absolute hardest thing a wind band can play.  However, if done properly, their effect is magical.