Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Piano music (still religious)

I mentioned that I'd get away from organ music all the time.

Pange Lingua is an ancient piece of plainsong (wikipedia info here) with a compelling little tune. Very simple and straightforward. Six lines of music, ranging an octave. Several years ago, I wrote a little set of variations on the tune for the piano. The style is one I would use at St. John's College while improvising during communion - high in the piano range, in perpetual motion, with wavelike figures. Eventually (in the second variation), this set breaks in to overtone playing of the sort Messaien asks for, where the right hand softly plays the natural overtones of the melody, colouring it. This has become a favourite technique of mine at the piano, and has figured in to some of my solo preludes and similar pieces, and in to the previous mentioned Sonatina for Piano and Violin. It's also a part of my writing in my Flute/'Cello/Piano trio which will no doubt be seen here soon.

I had some fun with the image file this time and made it in to an animated GIF, slowly scrolling through each page in turn so you can get an idea of each variation. It should change once every five seconds. For those interested in the five-page PDF file, it can be found here.

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Pange Lingua Variations by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Four out of five ain't bad

One of the fun things about having all these files on my computer dating back over a decade in some cases is being able to see how I've change in my approach to composition and (especially) to harmony. So these past couple days, after posting about my setting five Wesley hymns, I decided that I would rework them into something more in my present style. With a catch: I wasn't going to change the melodies. I would harmonize as the composers of the past, using an existing melody and giving it an entirely new context.

To explain the title, then:

I couldn't do it to Point Road, the tune I'd written for "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." I wouldn't say that there's anything that couldn't be improved, but for some reason my brain just didn't want to go there. I remember many walks between my parents' house and St. Paul's Anglican, working over the tune and the harmonies in my head (and likely humming to myself and waving my arms like a raving lunatic, which I'm known to do) and perhaps that's why I don't want to revisit it; it was a simple harmonization, but it was a work of months, at an early point in my career.

It's funny how we get attached to things.

Anyway, the other four tunes I had no trouble with. At least, no philosophical issues. Harmonizing these melodies without a) getting overly repetitive, b) still being singable, and c) not sounding like a theory exercise was something of a challenge. In no particular order:

Waterford ("Come, thou Long-Expected Jesus")
New stuff: The biggest change was to the musical meter. Initially, the hymn was barred in 3/2, and now it's it 4/4, which altered the way I thought about the harmonic rhythm. To be clear - the melody and its rhythm are entirely unchanged; the only thing different is where the barline falls and how the musical accent plays out as a result of this. A little like looking up an old edition of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and finding out that it starts with a two-beat pickup, not on a downbeat.

Riverside ("Christ, whose Glory Fills the Skies")
New stuff: A greater emphasis on chromaticism and a more dynamic harmony, mainly. There's less movement in the voices at the cadences, less repetition of the harmonies, and a greater use of dissonance to propel the hymn forward. Despite being in F Major, half of the phrases end in D Major, which is something I wouldn't have handled all that well eight years ago.

North Drive ("Come, O thou Traveler Unknown")
New stuff: Well, for starters it's in a different key. Set in B Minor instead of D Major and ending on an open Phrygian cadence on the dominant. Weirdly, this meant that the revised harmony spends more time hanging around D Major than the original. It's also strangely enough less chromatic than the original.

Fort Garry ("O Thou, who Camest From Above")
New stuff: Less on the pedal points, a much more dynamic bassline as a result. The harmonic rhythm was shifted and corrected, where before much of the harmonies worked against the beat, now they work with it (I hesitate to say "for" it...). The half-cadence at the end of the first line is a little closer to home than it was in the original.


Sometimes it's lots of fun revisiting old work.

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Four Wesley Hymns (2015) by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Monday, January 19, 2015

More from the past

Since yesterday was Sunday and I was busy all day, I didn't exactly have time to put up a new post. So this Monday morning I grabbed an old set of hymn tunes I wrote while I was working at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Fort Garry, in 2007, on texts by Charles Wesley. They were written in honour of Wesley's three hundredth anniversary, a celebration of which I played the organ for at St. John's College.

I have no idea if the tune names are otherwise in use, I just grabbed the convenient names of the four roads that border St. Paul's lot as well as the name of the neighbourhood (Fort Garry) just to give them something to be called. The last of the five is a much earlier piece (from three years prior, making it... oh goodness, over ten years old now) but worked with the text, and so I put it in with the other four.

They're all in one PDF file here.
Without further ado...

Six three-bar phrases, pretty straightforward harmony, and probably the most complex melody of the set. And yes, I know about the somewhat glitchy harmonic motion. Riverside feels the most rushed of the lot, at least in terms of the harmony. There are lots of little touch-ups I could (and should, and perhaps will) make; I certainly wouldn't harmonize it quite this way if I tackled this melody today.

Two shorter pieces on one page. Waterford has the widest-ranging melody (a major tenth) and some strangely static harmonies. It was an experimental time. So too it was with Fort Garry, which feels far less stable due to the movement of the harmony.

Probably the most, er, structurally sound of the bunch. Still, it was a time of 6/4 chords and plagal cadences for me. North Drive was actually sung at the aforementioned Wesleyan celebration, and people did seem to enjoy it.
The oldest and most dynamic of the set. Also holds a special place in my heart because of its age; it's one of the few works from that long ago that I figure is worth bringing up. From a time when I was playing around a lot with pedal points.

So there it is. Five hymns of Charles Wesley, music by me. From 2007 and beyond.

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Five Wesley Hymns by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hymn harmonization

Here's a fun little number. Quelle est cette odeur agréable is a French Christmas carol. I wrote today, for the choir at Crescent Fort Rouge United, three verse settings (we're singing it as an anthem next week) - a new four part harmonization; a three-part setting with the men having the melody and the women's parts having an offset rhythm, and a unsion/descant verse. I may at some point formally link them with (out-of-copyright) words and make a proper anthem.

Meanwhile, here they are!

The four-part setting is straightforward; nothing unusual here, really, except possibly the harmonies if you're not use to this sort of thing.

My theory teachers might have had small fits at it, but I think it flows nicely.

The three-part setting is a bit trickier. I'm a touch hesitant to put it here because the harmonies are incomplete - it can stand alone, but there should be some accompaniment filling in the harmonic structure, at least a little here and there. The descant even moreso, of course. On the other hand, neither are as chromatic as the above, so harmonizing them should be a bit simpler.

The three-part offset-rhythm setting:

And melody-with-descant.

All three are available in a single PDF here

Thanks, and keep watching for further updates, more hymns, and maybe something that's NOT organ- or church-related at some point.

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Quelle est cette odeur agréable (arrangements) by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Five years old this year - A Simple Style

A couple from the archive, a little bit of long-distance.

Aus der Tiefe / "Heinlein" / "Forty Days and Forty Nights" is a hymn I've heard and played at many Ash Wednesday and First-Sunday-of-Lent services. Five years ago, I wrote this little prelude using a style I was experimenting with at the time, a very simple two-part setting. I also wrote a final verse to go with it. Both are attached here.

A few notes about the prelude. The accompanying voice was composed against the choral then simply set twice, once without the theme and then once with. The effect is intended to be meditative, calm, and stark. I've written a few other preludes in this style and without exception those in a bleaker character work far better than those intended to introduce more uplifting hymns - a realization that may be one of the least surprising revelations in my years of composing.

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Prelude on "Aus der Tiefe" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The final verse I wrote puts the melody squarely in the pedals, and calls for a strong solo in the left hand, perhaps even a reed if your registration philosophy allows for it, and the agility to cross hands. Looking at it from five years later, it may be easier to play the solo in the right hand... Ah well.
Nothing overly radical in terms of harmonic language; I was then and remain now pretty solidly entrenched in the warm sounds of the late nineteenth century.

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Final verse: "Aus der Tiefe" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

So I'm thinking a prelude-and-final-verse treatment of a hymn every week. That might be fun. And in between Sundays, some other music, hither and yon.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ego Trip 2013: Post #1

So, on July 4th, 2013, I held a concert of my own works at First Presbyterian Church, Winnipeg, in the blazing hot summer. It was hot enough in that un-air-conditioned church that for attendees and performers I provided a cooler full of ice and bottled water. I don't doubt that heatstroke was a risk. Certainly I had performing issues.

The six performers were myself, on organ, piano and voice; Charmaine Bacon, on flutes and piano, Andrew Rampton, singing; Michael McKay, playing piano and singing; Nathan Poole with his violin; and James Robertson with a French Horn. Thirteen pieces were demonstrated, to the delight and joy of the audience (and my own!).

The first piece to show is the Sonatina Arguably in A Major, for violin and piano. Michael McKay took up the piano part, while Nathan Poole played the violin. The Sonatina is in two movements: Allegretto gracioso, with Overtones (Apolitical); and Something Like a Rondo. The structure is fairly straightforward, with the first movement using a simple ABAB-type form, and the second being, well, something like a rondo.
Points of interest:

  • The first theme of the first movement uses played overtones on the piano to colour an otherwise fairly ordinary accompaniment, while the second theme uses a layered canon idea.
  • The second movement, while still in A Major, never comes to rest on a tonic chord until 75 measures in, after the restatement of the secondary theme, and the first actual authentic cadence doesn't happen until twenty measures later.
  • The second movement's first theme is derived from the first movement's second theme; the second movement's second theme is derived from the first movement's first theme.
  • Both movements in the recording are slower than I had envisioned them; this does not mean that I disagree with Michael and Nathan's interpretation. Ideally, in my mind, the piece should run a hair under five minutes.
The heat was very telling that day. This was early in the concert and already both performers were feeling the beginnings of dehydration and exhaustion. We all did the best with what we had available. The piano was on shaky ground (the organ was far, far worse!) and the violin tuning was equally problematic, and everyone's fingers were alternately slipping and sticking due to perspiration. Still, I was happy with the result, and I'm pleased to share the live recording as well as the score. For length purposes, the complete score will be in link below the images; only a few highlights will be here in the blog.

The opening. Eight bars of introduction, and start of the first theme in the violin
The transition in to the layered second theme of the first movement:
The opening two pages of the Rondo, showing both themes.

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Sonatina Arguably in A Major by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

More from Ego Trip 2013 to come. And news of Ego Trip 2015, which looks to be accomplished with a flute/'cello/piano trio.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Creative Commons and Insomnia

You know what's fun? Writing music at five in the morning because you can't sleep.

You know what's less fun? Editing that music the next day. Because sometimes what I write at five in the morning is weird.

I got lucky and started the year with a good copy of a hymn introduction. I will get away from the church music (and the organ) eventually, I promise! Anyway, I picked this tune because of its use at Crescent Fort Rouge for Transfiguration - with the words "Songs of Thankfulness and Praise" - which gives me a month and a half to prepare it for worship. My history with the Anglican Church of Canada suggests this tune also for the hymns "Sing of God Made Manifest" for the Baptism of Christ, the wedding at Cana, or the Transfiguration (or all three, why not?), and "At the Lamb's High Feast we Sing" for Easter, so this piece has its uses through the first third or so of the year.
And two for the price of one, there's also a final verse attached to the thing. Just for fun.

So from now I'll try and keep a six-week-or-so lead time on liturgically useful music, at least that which is linked to a specific date in the calendar.

Meanwhile, there's a new little image at the bottom of this page, and of all my previous blog posts. It looks like this:
Creative Commons License

That's right, I'm now licensed under Creative Commons. The little symbols mean that you can do what you like with these pieces, provided that you're not republishing them for commercial use (if anyone's going to sell 'em, it'll be me, thanks!) and provided that, if you use my work to create something of your own, it has the same permissions - so in other words, your Variations on a Theme by Mike Cutler will be similarly licensed for free public use. Or Creative Commons will find you and mail you a nasty letter or something. To be perfectly honest, I don't know how it works at all. Which is not unusual for me.
Thanks go to Facebook contact Noel Jones for pointing out this option!

Anyway. Toccatina on Salzburg. And a final verse. Three-pager this time.

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Toccatina on "Salzburg" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.