Progress, of a kind (Day 102/365)

As is often the case when I’m stuck, I retreat to the printed word.

After my recent frustration with my attempts to orchestrate the central passage (mm. 62-71) of Milky Way, I decided to do some academic homework. I pulled out The Study of Orchestration, Samuel Adler, second edition, and actually read some of the sections on orchestrating different sections of the orchestra.

While it’s not as funny as Norman Del Mar’s Anatomy of the Orchestra, let’s face it, few books are, the Adler is nonetheless well written and useful. I sat beside my fire in the living room and read the chapters on woodwinds and brass as deployed in a full orchestra, and I began to think through these measures.

I fetched my piano score and began making notes on it.

mm. 62-63: Back way off here to provide room to grow in the climax. Tpt for melody. Flt in the duple motif; Bsn for bass line; add strings near the end

m. 64: switch duple motif to Hn; add 2nd Hn at m. 65;

m. 65: what is that melody in the duple motif, buried in all that counterpoint? [When I double-checked in the computer, I was stunned to see that the duple motif was not in the same key as the arpeggiation. I hadn’t intended to go all polytonal, honest.] Careful articulation is necessary here to maintain balance between mounting complexity/chaos and forward motion; also complexity atop familiar motifs; did I get this [a tonal shift in the pedal rhythm] in the cello part? [answer: no, and sensing that something more was needed in that last beat, I elaborated the part into a contrary downward arpeggio.]

mm.66-67: winds/hns double voice parts; + tbn, maybe; tpt take the rhythmic pedal pattern; upper strings take the growing duple motif; careful voicing/voice leading in the shift from C# to C; remember your original intent to take the voice from C# to E

mm.68-69: recapitulation; piano take full theme; strings on upper, tbn/hns on lower; cello/dbs/harp on arpeggios; rolled cymbal to cinch recap at 68; tremolo in strings?; -dbs at 69 [the bass line shifts up an octave, originally a mistake in the copy/paste process, but I left it]

mm. 70-71: try the strings tremolo, full brass choir; non decrescendo through m.72

I couldn’t resist trying to put some of this into practice, so I came upstairs and opened the file. I left the playback in SoftSynth, gross sounding as it is, and mucked around with what I had, deleting parts, shifting parts, playing some down and others up.

The fine tuning paid off: mm. 62-65, which is what I worked on, sound much, much better, more consistent. I ended up not backing off so much, I thought I was going to drop the strings altogether here, but I did smooth out the woodwinds in the duple motif. Instead of bouncing the motif from instrument to instrument, I left it in the flutes and added others as the measures progressed to increase the suspense.

The trumpets with the vocal melody are nice, almost Mahlerian.

The subito p at m.64 sounds a bit gulpy, but I’m thinking this is the computer. I still want to articulate the arpeggiations in the violins at m. 65 a bit more.

And incredibly, when I switched over to Garritan Personal Orchestra, the laptop mustered the strength to play the section without distortion.

I’m still looking at new MacBook Pros tomorrow at Lenox Mall, however.

LATER: I went back and made an mp3, but a couple of bits near the end are almost completely garbled. In Finale, it sounds like distortion; in the mp3, it sounds like fast-forwarding.

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