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.

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

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