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Piano Concerto - Sketch - Brainstorm

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Doug Gibson, Sep 29, 2018.

  1. @Paul T McGraw man i love you too! Your contributions to the forum and to encourage us is great.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  2. Doug, first remember that when Tchaikovsky played his first piano concerto (probably the world's most famous) for his mentor Nikolai Rubenstein, there was deafening silence, only later to hear that his concerto was "worthless and unplayable". So success does not require pier approval! Aside from this fact, I'm not sure I'm qualified to add much of value here though I was invited (thanks Paul) and the topic is interesting so I'll give it a shot (keep in mind the above Doug).

    The opening starts out screaming "Mystery" with that Dmin - Fmin chord progression. Then at 27s, I feel like its the beginning of a trite folk song with the overly simple arpeggios. This feels out of place to me. Pianists playing piano concertos are likely to want something a bit more challenging and pianisitic (listen to Rach 2). Or, better yet, let the orchestra take this part and let the pianist just play the opening melody (Rach 3). The main theme takes me back to a very tonal center, but then jars me with the mod at 46s. Why not keep the mystery chords going throughout as you introduce the melody? That's the mood you set me in, in the beginning. Then at 55s you start altering the theme and developing it. This seems a bit soon. Why not repeat the theme for me first? I get, that you don't want too much repetition, but in this case, it might be good to solidify the theme before taking the listener on a development excursion so that they can follow along with you.

    Also, you bring the strings in early and then suddenly drop them at 27s while the piano is playing this very simple arpeggio only. I think this needs some other approach as it suddenly feels very empty here. In contrast, at 1m14, you have a much more complete orchestral arrangement as you head into a lovely development. However, why not give that orchestral treatment to your main theme earlier? Also at 2m15s, I like much better what you're doing with the piano. So you're clearly juggling the orchestration well, just not at the beginning IMO.

    Is there a secondary theme? I don't hear one as what I hear sounds more like development on the main theme. So what about introducing a secondary theme as well? It might give you more material to intertwine? If anything, at 2m11s, that sounds like new material though I can't grab a theme from there. What about extracting something from this as a secondary theme but introducing it in a simpler form earlier? Just an idea.

    I'll leave it at that for now, as these are my first impressions which are usually the most important. In summary, get me in the mood, keep me there (for at least a while), and let me digest the main theme. Then, take me on the development excursion. And I really like the way you treat the development later in this piece so you clearly can take the listener on beautiful path once you have them on board with a solid grounding in the opening and the main theme.

    In any case, I'm very impressed with your skills and you're far beyond me, so please take my comments with a large dose of sea salt (preferably on a pretzel with lots of mustard too!). Cheers!
    Paul T McGraw and Doug Gibson like this.
  3. I'm must admit, I've always struggled to enjoy Piano concertos, so I may not be your target audience. The contrast of piano vs orchestra is so often jarring to my ear. However, the two examples you provided are exceptions, so I'm convinced it can be done.

    I get the metaphor. The section you had before 2:51-3:38 trades on the same individual/group contrast and it builds tension wonderfully. It's so clearly building to a climax, but it doesn't get there. It's not that it can't, but that you don't let it. Instead, the tension slowly ebbs away from 2:51.

    You've already got piano vs orchestra leading into 2:51. So what if you scrapped 2:51-3:38, finished the climax in the previous section, then went straight into the break after 3:38. That section is so wonderfully sweet and romantic that it should be a fantastic contrast from the dramatic, borderline frantic section leading to 2:51.
    Doug Gibson likes this.

  4. Thank you so much for your wonderful comments !

    I'll address some of this soon. Thanks !

  5. Thanks. I love the German accent.

    Made a video reply, to you and the thread in general.

    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  6. Piano concertos have always had a sweet spot in my heart, and when I was studying classical music I was obsessed with them (Rachmaninov, Brahms, Beethoven, you name it. Even Chopin!). When the time is right I'll definitely try to tackle the compositional side of it. So I'm happy that you drafted this piece, I really enjoyed the listening! The orchestration/arrangement sounded totally legit and cool, which is great!

    My main comment for this piece is gonna be on the main melody you bring up at the beginning. My gut feeling is that the "modulation" at 0:47 feels like a development that should only happen later in the piece. It's almost like you were leading the audience to believe that you had an inherently simple and mellow idea with a predictable chord progression, and then you threw everyone off with the chord change. I would personally state a "simpler" version of the melody (with more predictable harmonies) a couple of times before going into that 'more interesting' tangent. This is one way to improve the piece I think.

    In my opinion, another way to go about it is the following: the harmony change isn't inherently jarring even for a first pass of the melody, if that's your melodic idea; I can get behind the harmonic choice at 0:47. Although, after 0:51 you extend the melody by about 20 more seconds, with additional challenging harmonic ideas. That's a lot to take for a first pass, and it sounds like it's meandering a bit. I would 100% apply the same criticism to Shostakovich: it almost sounds like he's getting lost after ~1:37, the melody never ends and feels very directionless!

    So in general I would either avoid the instant modulation out of the key or shorten the duration of the melodic idea.

    I believe that Rachmaninov did it "better" in his 2nd movement of the 2nd piano concerto; the melody is easy enough to follow and he repeats it in a very simple manner before complicating it. It's not and unreasonably long melodic line, and there is an organic breath to it.


    A last personal comment I want to add is about you talking about the similarities between your idea and Shostakovich's idea: even if the melodies are similar, some harmonic changes might work on one but not the other. In the video, it seems like you wanted to justify your decisions by explaining that Shostakovich also did it. Although your melody is not Shostakovich's melody, which means that it has inherently different dramatic needs. Just something I wanted to throw out there.

    Then of course, you would have to weigh my opinion against the level of sophistication you wanted to achieve. But then again, it seems like it's trying to reach places that are a little too far out for the length of the piece. Everything I said is directly linked to my musical taste, but I hope there is something useful in this long rambling.

    But maybe the defeater to my criticism is that the music is a bit beyond me, which can be true to some extent. I've been listening to a lot of groovy rock/pop music lately, so my musical attention span is definitely lower than usual, and not too in tune with the orchestral sound :D

    Lots of cool ideas in the piece, congratulations!
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  7. Thanks Francesco !!
  8. #28 Bradley Boone, Oct 7, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2018
    Sorry for the delayed post. I have been working on a holiday project for a military band, music exercises for school ensembles, and some pep band charts for my wife's group - so I've been off the board a bit. I love concerti (the ones you cited as references and inspirations are fantastic). I listened through your draft and will echo some comments already in this thread (then I'll listen to your YouTube clip and throw on a follow up if needed).

    The first 30 seconds or so sound like transitional material (from a hypothetical first movement maybe), but doesn't bear much on the theme that you establish. Once into the theme, I agree with some comments here that the harmony is difficult to follow. The progressions are a little too migratory and wandering to pin down to a tonal area and set up the listener's expectations. The overall form/duration is fine for a second movement romance or song. The brief flashes of cascading chordal figures are also typical of this idiom. I don't feel the final 90 seconds have the sense of arrival/return you're looking for and the last ff chord is a little forceful for the scene you've set. I hear the inversion of some of the melodic material midway through the piece which is a nice developing gesture. My main takeaways would be:
    • revisit the theme's underlying harmonies (stay in a tonal home longer or make the harmonic language something that's easier to anticipate)
    • consider a more pronounced secondary theme or counter-line
    • keep the "soloist theme to orchestra theme w/ soloist technique gestures" aspects of the overall form
    • work in how the current intro plays a part in the movement, or rework the intro from scratch
    • after the main body of the movement is touched up, that ending will need a little attention (how triumphal is the setup and climax? should you save the triumph for the final movement?)
    Thanks for sharing the draft! It is an ambitious genre to take on.
    ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
    Update: Just saw your video reply above and re-read some of the previous posts in more detail. Regarding the video, I enjoy seeing other people's creative processes.
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  9. Hey Doug,

    I don't think there is anything new here I could bring to the table. All these great guys here have already provided some great feedback and so many tips to work with. I don't wanna repeat everything that has already been said here in much more detail and competence then I would ever be able to. I really like the harmonic and stylistic devices you're using in your piece and yeah, I do think it could need some improvements, but I am positive you know what you're doing and that you take all these great tips and comments to heart. Keep up the great work!

    BTW: You know who also liked Shostakovich's Piano Conerto No. 2? Yes, he did... :D

    Doug Gibson likes this.
  10. #30 Bradley Boone, Oct 9, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2018
    Re-listening to the harmonic language under the theme, I think the mediant relationship (from the root of the first key area to the third of the next) at many of the cadences takes me out of the tonal center. To my ear, it is the "common tone" sound of chromatically sliding around that takes the rug out from under me. Maybe consider saving that harmonic device for the reprise of the theme?

    Also (it was a quick plunk through at the keyboard on my part), but the Dbm to Fm/C sound at the beginning sets up the mediant/borrowed chord sound, but the 5th is the common tone here and it is the root (DbM) that becomes the common tone (of AM) once the intro is complete. So, one mediant sound was prepared (ascending major 3rd root relationship between minor chords sharing the 5th of home key) and another is delivered (descending major 3rd root relationship between major chords sharing the root of the home key) which might explain why I didn't grab onto the intro in my first two listenings. Also, the quality of the minor to minor mediants in the intro didn't relate to the major to major mediants once the theme is stated. If I'm way off on my harmonic analysis, then please forgive my crappy transcription.

    Before I come across as overcritical, I really appreciate your willingness to share the draft and graciously take criticism from the board. In your video, and comments in this thread, you welcome discussion, which is where I feel the license to add my 2 cents. The orchestration for the sketch is off to a good start, and I think you're relying on Noteperformer for the mix/sounds, so I don't have much to add on those subjects.
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  11. Of course I want your opinion. Not even remotely close to being "overcritical" or even critical. Just very helpful.

    I really thank you for taking the time to listen, and to comment. I hope I can do the same for you in the future.

    Thank you !!
    Bradley Boone likes this.

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