Notation: from drawing to scoring

SEPTEMBER 25, 2012 [updated 14.02.2015]
Notation: from drawing to scoring

from manuscripts of moving song – score sketch

World premiere performance by Zero Theorem: Aisha Orazbayeva [violin], Minsi Yang [violin], Stephen Upshaw [viola], And Patrick Tapio Johnson [cello] as part of DIVAcontemporary’s Sonic Coast [5] at Beaminster School on the 17th January 2015

Structure: When in doubt, draw it!

Finally, after months of thought and deliberation I have arrived at a structural solution for notating the score of my string quartet, now titled ‘from moving manuscripts of song’ (see previous notation related posts).

This title appeals to me especially because of the use of the word ‘manuscripts’ but more especially because of the verb ‘moving’ and noun ‘song’.

The use of ‘moving’ implies a fluidity of execution in live performance that my compositional and notational method aims to capture in the ‘static’ structural representation of the score. ‘Song’ is similarly ideal as each of the quartet voices are indeed ‘singing’ as a choir, independently with their own music, granted, but voices brought together; meshed in, by performing their material ‘framed’ in the same space at the same time as a quartet. The expectation is for an intimate musical relationship between the four players. The nature of this music does not preclude such intimacy but does re-draw the player’s lines of communication and integration, responding to each other spontaneously as the work unfolds and utilising all aspects of their musicality. This relationship is further reinforced by the thematic connectivity within the musical material itself. The fact that the voices are playing independently will be far less apparent when just listening to the music; the outcome will be one of a fusion of interconnected sounds; there will be nothing ‘disconnected’ about it!

As I write in the performance notes on the score:

This music is divided into five sections some of which have sub-sections. The piece should be performed as a continual whole with pauses marking the boundaries of each section.

The instrumentalists play independently of each other. Music is cued to begin only, with no ‘fixed’ synchronisation between the parts other than that which arises spontaneously through performance. Whilst the relationship of each instrument is flexibly placed against its neighbour, care has been taken to calculate potential outcomes of coincidence and to this end it is vital that metronome markings are adhered to as accurately as possible.

Bergersen-Quartet-3_00061from manuscripts of moving song – 3 – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above

There are a number of sections that operate in very close (almost imitative) canon. Again, no exact synchronisation is intended but players should ‘follow’ each other as closely as possible to approximately maintain the displacement of the instruments consequent of their starting order. If metronome markings in these sections are too fast they should be moderated through agreement with each player so that all can perform at roughly the same tempi.

Compositional material is derived from a series of variations that unify all sections with thematic landmarks. Thematic material is audible throughout the piece, bringing cohesion and structure to the work. This material is at its most radically diverse in the opening section and at its least differentiated in sections 3 and 5, both of which employ the aforementioned close canons. The piece as a whole could be considered as journeying from flux to greater focus although this statement oversimplifies the actual processes involved.

Bergersen-Quartet-1c_00032from manuscripts of moving song – 1c – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above

I have produced a score for the quartet which is a compromise between displaying all the musical material for each section or sub-section on the same page whilst avoiding the innumerable complexities of trying to notate each part in vertical alignment as represented in real time. The approach I have taken feels further justified as attempting to accurately pin-down the vertical alignment of the parts would go against the ethos of flexibility I have so carefully calculated in the music.

Bergersen-Quartet-4_00071from manuscripts of moving song – 4 – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above

As a consequence, the score cannot be read in the conventional manner (seeing all instruments sounding simultaneously in vertical alignment) although the progress of individual instrumental parts can be followed in the score. The performance parts for the quartet are notated as normal.

Programme note from the score:

The information below should not imply any programmatic, emotional or imagery treatment within this piece of entirely abstract music. Both title line and later, entire poem were discovered after the music was conceived. Information is given purely to place the title in its proper context.

‘Let Me Enjoy’ is the first of ‘A Set of Country Songs’, the 18 poems which make up the third section of Time’s Laughingstocks, and themselves begin with the seven poems grouped under the heading ‘At Casterbridge Fair’. It is also the first poem in Gerald Finzi’s Opus 19 set of songs, Till Earth Outwears, and Hardy later included it in his Selected Poems, together with a note suggesting that the subtitle ‘(Minor Key’) might not be needed when the poem appeared separately from the rest of the ‘Country Songs’. It was one of the nine poems Hardy chose for the Library of the Royal Dolls’ House at Windsor.

Hardy revised several lines at different times. In the Cornhill, where the poem first appeared in 1909, line 7 read ‘I will find charm in her loth air’; in the first volume publication, this was amended to ‘I will find charm in her uncare’ (a fascinating example of Hardy’s interest in words beginning with the prefix ‘un–‘, of which there are more than 350 different examples in the poems alone: to ‘uncare’ is surely not the same as merely to ‘not care’), before Hardy settled on the final version. In the third verse, ‘moving song’ was ‘rapturous strain’ in the manuscript, and ‘tender song’ in the Cornhill; perhaps more strikingly, ‘dreams’ in line 10 was ‘souls’ in the manuscript and remained so until Collected Poems in 1928. ‘And some day hence’, in the final verse, was ‘Perhaps some day’ in the manuscript and the first volume publication.

Let Me Enjoy
(Minor Key)

I) Let me enjoy the earth no less
Because the all-enacting Might
That fashioned forth its loveliness
Had other aims than my delight.

II) About my path there flits a Fair,
Who throws me not a word or sign;
I’ll charm me with her ignoring air,
And laud the lips not meant for mine.

III) From manuscripts of moving song
Inspired by scenes and dreams unknown
I’ll pour out raptures that belong
To others, as they were my own.

IV) And some day hence, towards Paradise
And all its blest – if such should be –
I will lift glad, afar-off eyes
Though it contain no place for me.