Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Partita on a theme by Monk


Anther hymn tune which occasionally I've been known to warm up to. While its repetitious nature and simple harmonies leave me a little cold much of the time, "Ascension," by William Henry Monk, is nonetheless an energetic and entertaining piece, full of opportunity for adaptation.

And so. Variations. A straight reharmonization could be interesting, too, but I didn't do that. There's not a lot of extremely difficult passagework (until the fugue, anyway). There was a deliberate attempt to vary the textures more than anything else, and so concepts of registration (except where needed in the pedal) and dynamics are left up to the performer, at least for the moment.

The theme, found in just about any hymnal I know, and the first variation. The theme is just the hymn spread across the open score, although there's no reason that it couldn't be played in the manuals alone.
The first variation is intended as a two-voice march-time piece. On its own, usable as an introduction to the hymn, if you don't mind a half-speed introduction. Not much to say about it, the right hand expresses the melody, the left hand dances around it, life is good.

The second variation is a trio in strict canon, because apparently I have a good dose of self-loathing. The pedals, at 4' pitch, have the theme, which, as you can see, has been converted to triple time, while the manuals have a canon. Despite the same notes as the theme, we're in E Minor here, not G Major.

Now we're wandering in to new territory. In the style of a sarabande, varying between E Minor and E Major.

Toccata. Straightforward. The theme's hidden in amongst all those sixteenth notes.

Back to a trio. The theme is reduced and stretched out and altered and all sorts of things, but it's there, trust me. It forms the basis for the left hand's ostinato, and the framework of the right hand melody in the second line.

And finally.

Fugue. I don't really know that there's much to say about it, but there it is.

And the finale. Back to G Major for an abbreviated restatement of the theme, and a long cadence.

So. A piece for Ascensiontide.
PDF link is here.
Comments are welcome.

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Variations on Monk's "Ascension" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Omni Die

Going from one of my least favourites to one of my most favourites - Omni Die is a hymn tune I most associate with the text "From the Slave Pens of the Delta," by Herbert O'Driscoll. As Rev. O'Driscoll is still alive, and his copyright is still active, I can't print or link his words, but this post isn't about his words as much as it is about the tune.

Omni Die - from the Trier Gesangbuch (Omni die dic Mariae), not that of Corner - dates from the late 17th century, and is a powerful and energetic tune, one that I could listen to and play with over and over. And so, I've provided here a prelude based on Baroque points-of-imitation techniques and a reharmonization, with the hope that people might get as much enjoyment as I do from this tune.

The prelude

Pick your favourite pedal-heavy registration and go. Light and clear preferred, I think, to best illustrate the contrapuntal nature of the work. And yes, in my opinion it's a viable introduction to the hymn - if you have a congregation that knows the tune and doesn't mind sitting for a few minutes while you play. Here it is.

Herein links the PDF
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Prelude on "Omni Die" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The reharmonization

... went places I wasn't totally expecting. But it was fun to write. I actually wrote it starting from the end and moving forward, so I knew I was working with a modal cadence and tried to make the rest of the piece fit. Instead, the whole thing went chromatic on me, much to my delight. And hopefully yours.

For PDF, click here!
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Reharmonization of "Omni Die" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Might be a bit of a challenge to sing. Shouldn't be too tough to play, though.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New Britain

I'd like to make something clear.

I don't like Amazing Grace. I don't like the words, for various reasons poetical that I won't get in to. I don't like the tune. But most of all, I really, really don't like the standard harmonies.

When all is said and done, there's one of those three things I can do something about. So here's a set of alternate harmonies for New Britain. Mostly experimentations, I'm curious how others view them.

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Four Harmonizations of "New Britain" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hard Donne By: Ego Trip 2013 #4

Breakup poetry is a beautiful thing.

Medieval breakup poetry has a certain flair to it that makes it that much more special.

Constancy is a song cycle on the words of John Donne, the British MP, the priest, the poet who penned the words: "No man is an island," "Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," and of course: "Twice or thrice had I loved thee, Before I knew thy face or name." Yep, in my wanderings and searchings for texts, I stumbled across the more... earthly poetry of the man who wrote "Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise." I concocted from some of these poems a small song-cycle of four poems built around the dramatic arc of a romantic relationship.

The four poems are these:
  1. The Good-Morrow
  2. Woman's Constancy (shortened in the title of the poem - and the whole cycle -  to just "Constancy"; there's nothing in the text that requires it relate to a woman, and I didn't feel a need to perpetuate that when I didn't have to)
  3. Break of Day
  4. The Message
About the music.

The first movement consists of a melodic ostinato, repeating itself over and over in different rhythms. The vocalist only sings that melody, over and over, five and a half times (the accompanist kindly finishes the last half of the melody for the singer). Here is a meeting, and it's implied a rather physical one, of two lovers. This poem reads to me like the start of a relationship, after declarations of love but before any sort of tedium, boredom or cynicism can creep in to the conversation.

The second movement is in the form of a Rondo, with a recurring refrain (to the words "Now thou hast loved me one whole day / tomorrow when thou leavest, what wilt thou say?"). This is a slightly more cynical statement, asking what excuses the singer's partner might give for leaving them. There's a recurring motif in the accompaniment - well, and in the vocal part - of four sixteenth notes followed by two quarters. This motif keeps getting shifted off the beat to give a sense of unrest and unease in the music.

Break of Day was the first piece of the cycle to be written, before it was even a cycle. The poetry reflects "the morning after," when one partner has to leave for, oh, say an early meeting (the more things change, the more things stay the same, eh?). The message is summed up in the final two lines: "He which hath business, and makes love, doth do / Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo." As for the music, it has a gentle five-beat rhythm and two distinct ideas in the accompaniment, the first of which is a rolling rise and fall in two-voice counterpoint over a pedal tone, and the second is a slow written trill, ascending across several bars. The vocal line is through-composed, with rhythm and melody following the text.

The finale is the final breakdown of the relationship, presumably by letter - after all, the writer is asking the recipient to "send home" things. The music is what my theory courses call "modified strophic," using little (well, significant) variations between verses. The piano part is a driving and unstable moto perpetuo, constantly pushing the music forward. 

At the moment, Constancy exists in scores for alto voice and tenor voice, in different keys. The above examples are all from the tenor 

As noted in the title of the post, this work was premiered at Ego Trip 2013, on July 4th, sung by Andrew Rampton, accompanied by Charmaine Bacon. The recording is sadly not of great quality; I will try to clean it up and post it at some point, or simply re-record it at another time and place.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fresh Hymnody

It so happens that at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, where I am employed, we are currently in the midst of the ART festival - ART standing for "Arts Revealing Transformation." And it so happens that Crescent Fort Rouge United Church has asked for a new hymn to be written for the use of the church during this year's Lenten and Easter seasons which would fit in with the theme of the ART festival. Being a composer (and most definitely not a poet), I was asked to write music to a poem by congregation member Ted Dodd.

Ted provided us with a wonderful meditation on the transforming love of God, challenging In many respects - not least of which was the textual rhythm, which shifted with every verse. The content of the verses is reasonably similar in tone; the front half of the verse speaks of ills in the world, while the second half asks for change, newness and illumination. As such, I conceived of a tune which would shift from darkness to light, from minor mode and character to major. Moreover, it was necessary that the hymn be singable by a congregation with little exposure, and reasonably straightforward in the harmony. The result (published with Ted Dodd's permission) is seen below:

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Everyone loves the French Horn - Ego Trip #3

Once more from July 4th, 2013, comes this Fantasy from the depths of my brain.

The Fantasy in G Minor for Piano and French Horn is a ten-minute-long, single movement work in an expanded Sonata form. There is a slow introduction which anticipates the coming thematic material, as well as develops its own. The following Allegro is an exercise in Romantic-era counterpoint; with two distinct theme groups (like one would expect from a Sonata-form movement) followed by an extended development which continues through to the end of the movement encompassing the recapitulation and coda. Because it's me, contrapuntal and even fugal sections abound, alongside long pedal points. Also because I don't play the French Horn, I abuse the player by assuming that they can hold their breath for minutes on end while playing repeated horn calls.

Truly, I am an awful human being. At least to the brass.

That being said, James Robertson and Mike McKay did a phenomenal job with it. Here, you can hear it for yourself:

Some notes about the performance tempi. The opening Adagio Mesto was performed much quicker than I'd envisioned it. That being said, I love it all the same; it works extremely well at that speed, and Mike and James did a brilliant job with the arpeggiation. Similarly, the accelerando into the recapitulation was decided on by the performers - and again, I love that choice, even if I didn't write it. The recap / fugato was intended (as written) to keep the pace of the development.

And for those interested in the score:

Piano score PDF
Horn part
And as usual: the license.

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Fantasy in G Minor by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

More Lowry

I like the words of Robert Lowry. Not always his music - sometimes, but not always - but his words are often very useful. When I was, many years ago, looking for interesting hymn texts, I came across this little number: We are Pilgrims of a Day. I wrote an anthem on that text, as yet unused, but that's not what I'm offering up today.

No, today is a straightforward, ready-for-Sunday hymn setting. Well, except for the meter shifting on you every which way.

The basic meter I chose was a seven-beat pattern, which I felt fit the words reasonably well, as such:
We--- are pil-grims of a | day ...
Trav---eling on our cheer-ful | way ...

and also in the refrain:

We | jour-ney. hand in hand, (rest)
to | Can-aan's hap-py land; (rest)
O | come ye friends and neigh-bours ...

And all of that was a lovely idea, but there are these repeated interjections of "homeward bound, homeward bound" in the first verse and similar moments in the other verses. The actual hymn meter is 7, 6, 7, 5 (numbers which may mean nothing to you if you're not a church musician - that's the number of syllables per line) and an eight line refrain with a 5, 6, 5, 5 / 6, 6, 7, 6 pattern. Seeing poetry of that rhythmic nature, I am unsurprised to find that Robert Lowry's words tend to go with Robert Lowry's music and with that of few others!

So with little more ado, my second Robert Lowry hymn setting. I'm taking all bets as to how long until I set "How Can I Keep from Singing." (incidentally, I have made an SAT arrangement of that particular tune...)

Click for PDF download
The text is of course by Robert Lowry; as for the music...

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We are Pilgrims of a Day by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Easter hymns (but not "Easter Hymn")

I know, we're in Lent.

But musically speaking, we should be looking at Easter Sunday and in to that season. It's only a month away, after all.

Ellacombe, a tune I know best as going with the hymn "The Day of Resurrection" (and the William Tarrant labour hymn "My Master Was a Worker," which is quite fun), is the subject of my latest fauxbourdon arrangement, as well as a 2008 fanfare prelude which I've used many times since then.

Without a whole lot of further ado, here is the music!

The prelude:

Download the PDF

Download the PDF
 It's fun to look back a few years and see what I had in mind. Sometimes I wonder.

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Prelude for "Ellacombe" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

And the aforementioned fauxbourdon, harmonically wandering a bit.
PDF link here!
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Fauxbourdon on "Ellacombe" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

It's a fantastic tune with a great many possibilities, and the more it's heard the better, as far as I'm concerned.