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Debussy Homage Mov. 1 - FEEDBACK APPRECIATED

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Doug Gibson, May 1, 2018.

  1. Thank you again so much for taking the time to do all of this. I hope I can repay the favor in the near future for one of your works.

    Yeah, by all means let me know what is bugging you with the Waltz. Don't even worry about "being informed", terminology, or anything like that. I am pretty sure I can figure it out, even if you only write "the piece sucks ass".

    As far as models...... just Debussy. I do naturally gravitate more towards Ravel, and others after Debussy. Plus I was a classical guitar major once, so the "Spanish expressionism" is deep in my imagination.

    I really did not know them until the commission, but Debussy wrote a couple of Waltz's. This is how I am justifying the connection.

    I would like to ask if I can try an experiment with you ? Can you listen to the solo piano version of my Waltz ?
    Based on the first comments (John, Craig etc.), I am wondering how much both the timbre and the octave transpositions change the listening experience. (maybe none)

    Thank you again to everyone who has made a comment. It has been very helpful !
  2. The timbre changed for me, but less so the register. I think the guitar samples have some pitch waver and hearing the uniform sound of the piano may have something to do with it.

    I re-listened to the two Debussy waltzes (composed 20 years apart if I read that correctly) and your guitar quartet, and I think I know what was throwing me. I think Debussy makes the listener more comfortable in a (temporary) key area, despite a fair amount of chromaticism, before modulating. I also get a sense of return and hear the harmony supporting the form in Debussy. He even has some IV-vi-V/V-V progressions. Another unifying device in the Romantique is the scalar descending bass that ends on the mediant. Later on, he follows the same cadential formula with an unexpected/unprepared modulation to Bb (it modulated to C the first several times through the form). In your quartet, it is harder for me to establish the tonality in some sections and hear how they relate to one another.

    In homages, I like the unprepared modulations, and the use of solo scales as a bridge between sections, but maybe the overall form of the waltz is a little lost on first hearing. The more I hear it, the more what you wrote grows on me, but I think some stronger harmony reinforcement would put down the guideposts I'm listening for. The sections are delineated rhythmically and stylistically (tempo, dynamics, etc.), so I think the main sections work. Maybe consider adding some repetition and stronger cadential movement within the internal sections of the waltz? I'm not thinking major revisions to the form, just 2-4 bars of tonicization or shoring up the tonality at the start and end of the internal phrases. I'm rambling/repeating myself now, so I'll sign off.
    Doug Gibson and Paul T McGraw like this.
  3. @Bradley Boone you made some really excellent observations. I had to listen to the Debussy again after reading your comments, and I think you made some great points. The occasional use of more traditional harmony serves a number of purposes, and I had not noticed it previously.

    @Doug Gibson it was very helpful to hear your piano version. For me, the piano version is much more pleasing to my ear. For me the piano version seems coherent and very obviously Debussy. The piano version flows together, phrases make sense, and it has an emotional arc. All of which add up to a much stronger artistic statement than the quartet version. So what should you do? The piano version is so good that if I were you I would be tempted to pull the waltz out of the quartet and save it to be used in a collection of piano pieces. However, that may not be practical at this point, and like many other composers before us, you can still recycle the piece as a solo piano piece at a later date. I agree with Bradley about adding in some more traditional tonicization, repeating some of the key material and so forth. But I know you are not likely to follow those suggestions. At the very least, you should thin out the harmonies in the lower register. You could do this easily by simply having one or more guitars rest more of the time. Or only let one guitar is play a dense chord, while the others have single notes.

    Because of the overtone series and the way our ears work, the exact same chord when transposed down an octave, is going to have a markedly different quality. It's physics, nothing we can do about it. Also the physics of the piano are way different from the physics of the guitar body so even the same pitch is going to produce very different overtones in the two instruments.
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  4. Now, now, now. We don't really know that do we ? ;)

    Of course I am very grateful for all suggestions. This is a classic case of hearing something so many times the surprise is lost on me.

    That said...... based on both comments above, I am uploading the very opening 35 seconds of the Waltz. Just that.

    Can you - if either of you have the time - let me know if this is clearer, follows your suggestions and goes far enough.

    I re-wrote the bassline to just stay on E. The melody has been doubled up an octave and perhaps in this higher register "grounds" the tonal area
    in the ear better ? ......or not ???

  5. In my opinion a big improvement. I still prefer the piano version, which just seems to "sing" to my ears, but the new version is much better than the old version. Not that the old version was a "bad" composition. The quality of the actual composition was obvious, and proven by the quality of the piano version. Are your changes enough? They would be for me. I am looking forward to hearing what Bradley thinks, or Aaron. They have younger ears.

    If I was going to write for guitar, I would study the compositions of Rodrigo. His Concerto Andaluz is for four guitars. And I fell in love with his Concerto Aranjuez for one guitar when I first heard it in the 1970s. Too late for that with this composition. But I think they will love it. Especially with the changes to the waltz. Assuming they are good enough to play it. It seems like a really tough challenge to play.
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  6. Yes, I think that it sounds more grounded in E, but it is fleeting because the harmony quickly goes through diminished flavored chords (m.6-7) into Gm to a cadential series (m.10-14) that I hear strongly preparing D (about 22sec into the soundcloud file). That sequence (m.8-14) works for me, and I think is still unchanged from the original, because I get this iv-I64-V-I as a listener with that F mediant in the bass at m.11 to give it real interest.

    I might go further to establish the intro through m. 8 with:
    Doug Sketch Homage1.png

    Thanks for entertaining my B.S. :)
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  7. My comments are more general and I may be repeating some other folks, but to my ears, the temporary harmonic excursions that Debussy is known for work best when they hang in the air a bit, as rendered on a piano with pedal or in his orchestral pieces - four guitars can't l.v. in the same fashion. Therefore, your piano version sounds immediately Debussy-esque, but with the guitar version those elements became more apparent to me only after listening to the piano version. Still, I think the waltz stands on its own ... and perhaps you are not trying to mimic Debussy anyway. Somewhere around [2:30] my brain was asking for a little rubato in the performance. As always, repeated listening brings out more elements to appreciate.
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  8. One of the issues I felt I faced was that most of the music that we think of with Debussy is floaty, and Moderato in tempo. I did not want to have three movements in the 72-100 bpm range.

    I thought about this a lot too. Mimic.....no. Pay respect ..... yes.

    I had an issue like this 2-3 years ago. I was commissioned to write a homage to George Crumb, and did not want to create a "cliff-note" version of someone body of work.

    The cool thing with Debussy is we know how he would have approached the issue

    Thank you very much for listening, and your comments !

    All the best

    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  9. Thanks a lot @Doug Gibson, I just spent an hour of my life researching an explanation of the "Haydn" theme's letter-note assignment! I know the German pitch-alphabet relationship, and I thought I knew the French system, but it turns out [to my surprise] it was neither. Then I listened to like 6 other Haydn elegies based on the theme. Way down the rabbit hole, but a fun trip.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  10. Doug

    I listened to this only once to get the feel as I would if I was sitting in the audience.
    First, and no surprise, I like it. The opening was the only part I didn't lock on to immediately, but the rest I listened and 'forgot to analyze' and just enjoyed it. As I was listening I can't help but think 'Erik Satie' over and over. Erik took more risks imo and your mood felt like something he would write. And that's probably is fine considering the two were close. I'd love to hear the end result of this when performed live.
    Doug Gibson likes this.

  11. Thanks for your kind words, and listening !

  12. That 2nd movement is a classic. I'll find out end of next week how the first rehearsal went. They are indeed very good. Here is a sample of there playing:

    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  13. I too preferred the piano version. First it seems more idiomatic and the notes are better enunciated than on guitar (particularly grace notes,fast chromatic passages, and the very high melodic notes). The beginning section seems a bit more like Satie than Debussy with its quirky Elfmanesque attitude. As for the guitar version, hmm.... the samples don't exactly enhance it, I assume it will sound very different (better) with real guitars. Some passages such as the rapid chormatic notes don't sound idiomatic on guitar and the very high melodic notes sound weak (I think they may not work terribly well even with real guitar). I would think that at this stage it might make sense to get some players together to do a read through with you and get feedback directly from the players and then make adjustment according to that. Thanks for sharing. I wish I had more feedback to give but I don't want to share wrong advice either so these are just my opinion (as an ex-flamenco/classical guitarist).

  14. Hi Gregory

    Thank you very much for your comments, and taking the time to listen.

    Yes, the first rehearsal is the 31st of the month. I am sure adjustments will happen. I already have my own list.

    One thing to clarify: The quartet whom the commission is for, use both a "Treble" and "Baritone" guitar.

    This extends the range by a 4th. (both higher and lower). So the high/low E strings become A's. Thus everything up there is played 5 frets lower than normal.

    Thanks again

  15. I enjoyed the piece. I really like the intro, it grabbed my attention straight away. So I will say "Hit".

    Will they be recording your piece for an upcoming album as well?
  16. Man - completely missed this thread. I'll blame it on the 30 pages I was writing on Brahms' Piano Sonatas for the first half of May.

    First of all - Thanks for the shout-out, Bradley! I wish I could have participated in the discussion, because listening to it now I was wondering a few things - but the time has passed!

    Speaking of which - the read-through was yesterday, right? How'd it go?
  17. Actually one of the members of the quartet had a "dad duty" unexpectedly arise. So we are meeting this Thursday for the time.

    By all means fire away !

    Thanks !
  18. Ha..."dad duty" pulling someone away from their work? I can relate...WAY too much.

    One thing I was wondering about your score is also kind of a confession: I hate grace notes in ensemble guitar music - for reasons which give me pause about some of those 'ornaments' in the first full movement. Here's the gist: in solo playing, the mechanics of playing the multiple parts which incorporate grace notes basically 'work themselves out' - probably the most famous being that big portamento in the first Villa-Lobos prelude. It's notated just as a slur onto the beat, but I don't know anyone who plays it who doesn't delay the lower bass note that comes in (theoretically anyway) on the same beat. The effect is clearly to have the lower note 'fold in' to the upper one, and everyone just kind of does it - because a solo player can!

    Measure 14 on is kind of an example of a problematic phrase. The top voice there has grace notes (slurred) with accents. The playback plays a behind-the-note grace note, but the notation definitely suggests that you want one on-the-beat? Now - if you wanted it behind-the-beat, then you're going to have that kind of stutter thing of the attack of the grace note being very clearly articulated, with the left-hand hammer-on articulation of the destination note being necessarily softer (particularly because the grace note is accented!) while if it falls on the beat, then that softer attack will be heard much more readily because the rest of the ensemble will have already articulated. Ultimately - safest thing to do would be to notate it exactly. Otherwise, odds are you're going to need to explain what you want there!

    I'd worry a little bit about those pizzicato notes - the only 'conventional' RH fingering under pizzicato is 'p' - and those notes in the third full movement go by fast enough that the thumb won't have time to rebound and re-articulate, especially with the accent lying on the second note. You might finger those two note pizz phrases as 'i'-'p' - so they'll know not to try it all under 'p' !

    It's a little late to do any structural changes - but the biggest thought I have on that is that you make great use of the extended range of those instruments - but for me it gets a bit stale after a while. The 'geographical' roles are really fixed in this piece, with the top player always on top, the bottom player always on the bottom, etc.. Just as a thought - something like the beginning of the third movement, where the range of what the first player is doing would fit on any of the conventional guitars - why not give that Treble player a break and let him relax in the ensemble a bit?

    Please post the rehearsal results when they do get together - I'm intrigued to hear the final result!
  19. Hi Brian:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to listen, and write out your comments.

    Say three Hail Mary's and go forth forgiven.

    "dad joke" aside:

    Great feedback, and cool points.

    A number of the points you raised, I don't 100% have an answer for at the is moment. I was trying the "thread the line"; meaning writing things I think
    can be done, but are outside my area of expertise. They fall under a self made category called "I'll find out at rehearsal".

    You hit the nail on the head here. That is exactly the piece I had in my ear with the very opening portamento to the waltz.

    I was under the impression the notation would be interpreted as "before the beat" . The Acciaccatura - grace note with an oblique stroke through the stem - is usually performed before the beat and the emphasis is on the main note not the grace note.

    I'll find out what happens.

    It actually works better to delete a few of those spots so there is a "call-response". Nice ! Thanks ! Makes it more playable and sounds better too !

    I'll see if I can record any of the rehearsal, and post some excepts.

    Thanks again for all your comments ! I'll report back.

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