Sunday, August 17, 2014

Townsend: Symphony No. 1

As I promised some commentators a while back, here is a clip of my Symphony No. 1, which I finished a couple of months ago. It is not a proper recorded version, but rather an audio file exported from Finale in which the instruments are synthesized. Some instruments come out better than others. The oboe and double bass seem pretty good, but the violins never sound quite right and the flute is very feeble. The dynamics, especially crescendos and diminuendos are a bit hit and miss. But a program like this is an incredible boon to composers, even with its limitations. In my Symphony No. 2, which I am working on right now, I was having some real problems with the playback of percussion instruments and the customer support people at Finale were very helpful in solving the problem.

I have created a video clip of the symphony with titles so you know the movements apart, and with a single photo for each movement, just to have something on the screen. The first photo is of a sunset on Mars, the second a mountain landscape, also on Mars. The last two are just photos of light in natural landscapes. Don't read much into the choice of photos, as they are just ones I had lying around.

The symphony is in four movements and is very much in the classical tradition. There is an opening movement, Maestoso, then a Scherzo, a Passacaglia and a Vivace. The main influences are the Classical masters, especially Haydn, with a bit of influence of Sibelius here and there. But the symphony is mine above all. It makes no attempt to be fashionable, but just to be a decent piece of music, expressive and providing enjoyment to the listener. It is rather brief, under fifteen minutes for all four movements. It is also my first attempt in the genre.

I welcome criticism, so don't be shy!

UPDATE: On listening to the clip after uploading it, there is an unfortunate "rain-barrel" effect that seems to come about whenever there is the full orchestra. I had to compress the clip down to a pretty small size to make it uploadable to Blogger. In the original version it sounded much better. If anyone has any ideas how I can put up a better version, please share in the comments.

UPPERDATE: Yesterday I met with a conductor about premiering the symphony next season. It will receive its first performance in the 2014/15 season of the San Miguel International Symphony series. We haven't set the date yet, but I think it will be before Christmas.


Rickard Dahl said...

Maestoso: I think the movement would work better with more rhythmic activity. I can imagine some mordents here and there for instance. I know it's a slow movement but Mozart and Haydn typically have more rhythmic activity in their slow movements. Well, it starts off with too little rhythmic activity I think but it around 2:00 and then around 3:00 especially it starts to get really good. I like the melody/theme you have there (once things get rolling so to speak). At 5:18 I can imagine a repeat of the main theme but with lots of action (final climax) such as much forte, tutti, much timpani activity, maybe a bit of continuation/development (basically some sort of answer to the theme) of the theme that would lead to a more majestic end. Right now it ends a bit too calm in my opinion.

Vivace: Works pretty well, nice witty motifs. I'm not sure about the slow contrast at the end.

Passacaglia: Works really well. It has a nice melody & harmonies. Starts out simple but slowly climbs towards a climax. Basically: Beautiful.

Vivace: Nice rhytmic variety and contrasts. Nice motifs that stick out from the background. Not sure the pause and following chords at 13:41 onwards suit. Maybe it's too big of a contrast.

Overall it's pretty good, a few improvements can make it even better (of course I have a different taste so maybe you prefer to keep it as it is).

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for those thoughts, Rickard! Much appreciated. I've fiddled around with this quite a bit already and finally decided to just put it out there as it is. Not perfect, but with perhaps enough good stuff so that people would find it enjoyable. The first movement indeed might be the most problematic of the four, as you imply. I think that I didn't want it to be too conclusive, more ambiguous so that it sets up the later movements. In the 21st century we don't seem to have the same access to the devices of symmetry and resolution that worked in the 18th century so we use ambiguity instead.

I am well into the Symphony No. 2 right now and starting to have some vague ideas about a third symphony: which will have a LOT of percussion!

Thanks so much for your thoughts. I'm glad you like the passacaglia. I think it is my favorite as well.

Rickard Dahl said...

Well, things don't necessarily need to be ambigious but I get your point. I'm glad to hear your symphony composing is going well. Good news about the performance being scheduled! I suppose it's a always a good idea to have contacts within the classical music sphere. It's probably easier to get a performance if the piece isn't too long, demanding or with too many instruments. It would probably be a lot harder to get a performance for a lengthy symphony with a massive orchestra size. By starting small it probably gets easier to get performances of new longer and bigger symphonies as your name gets more established.

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes, I agree. I didn't write the music thinking about ease of performance, but I certainly don't believe in making music difficult just to be difficult. Though sometimes I think that this is one of the ways to win a composition competition!!

The Symphony No. 2 will probably be in three movements with a duration of 20 minutes. I am also adding trumpet, trombone and French horn to the orchestra and there will be two percussionists instead of just one tympani player. But I am adding these because I am feeling both that I need them and I can handle the orchestration.