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Part Writing

This is a somber four-part piece in c# minor.  I composed it in my high school Music Theory and Composition class in fall 2005 using the Sibelius notation software.  If you can think of a better title for this piece, I will happily adopt it!

DescriptionFileSizeModification time
MIDI file of musicpart-writing.mid59852006-01-17 15:31:52 +0000
Synthesized WAV filepart-writing.mid.fp.wav47799522008-01-01 23:47:52 +0000
Scorepart-writing.pdf2656102006-05-30 16:23:58 +0000


Here is the explanation I wrote for class.  You might find it interesting or insightful.

I chose c# minor for my original piece because I wanted to do something in minor and I decided c minor or a minor would be too boring.  I have not regretted my choice; there's a certain shade to the sharps that the white keys don't have.  Anyway, I wanted to give my piece the same somber and deep quality as the Bach pieces we've looked at in class.  I used 4/4 time and mostly quarter notes with one chord per beat.  I was not aware of the traditional roles of second-inversion chords, so I used them rather liberally; my uses of first inversion chords were appropriate, but, as I wasn't aware at the time, the original piece was not supposed to have them.  My progression was: V i V i VI iv ii V VI ii° V7 i iv i; (VII7 III VI iv ii° V vii°) VI iv V7 i.

I also wanted to have a "lighter" section in the relative major, E major, but my teacher wouldn't let me analyze the section as a modulation, and relative to c# minor, the chords I wanted to use didn't fit the limited set of combinations allowed by the book.  I settled on a circle-of-fifths progression that quickly passes through E major; that progression is parenthesized above.

In my first expansion, I doubled the length of the piece to 16 measures.  If "a" represents the theme (the original first four measures) and "c" represents the circle-of-fifths and ending chords (the original last four measures), the piece then had the form "abac", where b was a new four-measure section entirely in E major.  Just "b" and "c" each follow the c#-minor V-i cadence in "a" with a V-I in E major, "a" follows the E-major V-I cadence in "b" with a V-i in c# minor.  I ended the new section with a retardation for more interest.

I also embellished the soprano and, in some places, the other voices with eighth notes.  I added two particularly important runs of eighth notes, the run in the bass imitating the run in the soprano, to the first measure of "c"; they emphasize the quickness of the pass through major, contrasting it with the lengthier "b" section that is entirely in major.  Finally, I took out my rather random 6-4 chords, added appropriate cadential 6-4s, and turned the progression at the end of "a" into a pedal 6-4.

In my second expansion, I again doubled the length of the piece to 32 measures.  I decided to repeat "ac" at the end, which left me with 8 measures I called "d" to fill with new material.  The structure of the piece became "abacdac", where each letter except "d" represents 4 measures.  Having modulated to the relative major in the "b" section, I decided to modulate to the parallel major in these measures.  However, while I could jump straight from c# minor to E major and vice versa, modulating plausibly from c# minor and C# major required a transition that would replace the last few measures of the first occurrence of "c".

After trying several transitions that didn't sound good, I settled on a two-measure series of variously embellished V chords (G# B# D#) with a pedal point of G#.  This worked because the V chord is the same in major and harmonic minor.  Interestingly enough, the i64 chord at the beginning of the transition is a pedal 6-4 because it comes between two V chords, but it is also a cadential 6-4 because it prepares for the IAC beginning section "d".

I was running low on musical creativity by the time it came to writing section "d", so I dropped in part of a melody I had written before for the first four measures.  I heavily embellished this section with eighth and sixteenth notes in all the voices to give it a unique "flowing" feeling.  For the remaining four measures, I repeated half of the theme ("a") but in major, and I used the same exotic major II chord as in the first four measures.  I found I could use the same transition to leave C# major as I did to enter it.

I decided the piece was a bit repetitive with the theme appearing three times in its entirety; I wanted to differentiate them somehow.  To this end, I followed musical tradition and made the later occurrences fancier than the earlier ones.  I simplified the first occurrence of "a" to almost all quarter notes and added additional eighth notes to the second.  I went wild on the final "ac", replacing the originally sedate melody with a stream of eighth sixteenth notes.  But this created an irritating imbalance between the soprano and the other voices, so I embellished the other voices with eighth notes.  There is one notable exception: in the second-to-last measure, the tenor and alto each have two half notes in order to emphasize the chord progression in progress.

Because of this embellishment, I now describe the structure of the piece as "a b a' c d a'' c' ".  I'm not certain about how best to group the measures into phrases and periods.  I'm inclined to make each of "a b", "a' c", "d", and "a'' c" into an eight-measure phrase.  Then "a b a' c" would be a parallel period because of the matching "a" and "a' ", and "d a'' c" would be a contrasting period.

I listened to the piece several times and tinkered with notes here and there.  The ending seemed too abrupt; the eighth and sixteenth notes "smashed" into a static chord of half notes.  To fix this, I moved the three lower voices down on the fourth beat into another position of the final i chord.  Although one may argue that the piece should not end on a weak beat, the ending seems effective to me.

I still cannot play my own piece, which is somewhat embarrassing.  The major reason for this is the wide range; sometimes I cannot reach all four voices with two hands, and even when I can, my hands are so stretched that it is difficult to play the eighth and sixteenth notes fluently.  Thanks to Sibelius, I had some idea of how the piece sounded as I composed it; now I will have to find others to play it with.  My brother plays the flute, and the soprano seems appropriate for flute, but I even have trouble playing the bottom three voices on the piano; my mom, who also plays piano, might oblige.

Matt McCutchen's Web SiteMusicPart Writing  (Top, Explanation, Bottom).  Email me about this page.
Modification time of this page's main source file: 2009-05-06 04:24:10 +0000
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