I got email yesterday from Dianne Mize, my painting teacher from my summer at GHP, a newsletter kind of thing reminding us of her blog, where she posts a painting every day. Not that that kind of productivity depresses me or anything.
Anyway, as I scrolled through, lusting after her work, and her work habits, one of her posts led me to this website/post, and the concept of notan: light and/vs. dark in a composition. For Dianne and Robert, of course, the concept is literal in a visual sense.
But I began to think about notan in terms of sound and orchestration. The more I have listened to symphonic works recently in order to glom how they do it, as George Lichtenberg would fret, the more I pay attention to the clarity of the orchestration. I’ve talked before about trying to avoid the problems that Robert Schumann had in layering too many instruments into a passage; I don’t think I’ve been able to avoid them.
On the one hand, as I’ve listened, the strings are the bedrock of the symphony. They play practically all the time in most pieces, and the violins in unison more often than you might think. On the other hand, sometimes they step into the shadows and allow the other sections or soloists to have a moment in the light.
I’ve got the concept. Where I think I have failed in the execution is in setting up themes in a way that these moments of light and dark occur organically. I still feel as if, in IV. Lento especially, I’m writing too strophically. The fact that I can label each pass through a theme with a nickname means that it’s too segmented. In III. Allegro gracioso, which I swear I’m going to get to work on in just a moment, the name of the game is strophe, although as I mentioned in my earlier post I think I could try breaking those up as well.
Anyway, that’s one of my goals this week is to revisit IV. Lento and see about crushing the thematic material and seeing if something good can come of that.
Now I’m going to work. Really.