The Unsung Song cycle: May 8-22, 2007

Journal entries by composer and pianist Laurie Conrad

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The Unsung Song cycle: May 8-22, 2007

Post by figaro » Wed Jun 06, 2007 5:04 am

The Unsung Song cycle: A Composer’s Journal Entries: May 8-22, 2007


Image: The Point, down the road from Windgarth House.

Tuesday, May 8
2 a.m.

Finished copying out almost half of the main score of The Forest, the first song of the Unsung Songs cycle. I have decided to put one of the new harp cadences towards the end, as though the singer is lost in reverie, silent until the end of the song, the sounds of the falls around him.

Wednesday, May 9

Almost done with The Forest. I will work with Myra when she returns from New York City, & can make the final changes in rehearsals with all the instruments - but for now I have decided to keep the harp’s harmonic movement fairly static in the cadenza. The cadenza will also be left mainly as an improvisation, with only the basic outline sketched out in the score, based on the whole tone scale. Above the harp are motives in the other instruments, & those are written in, scored. At one point I considered scoring it as “chance music”, i.e. giving the instruments their motives but allowing them to play them at will, whenever they wished. I decided against it, for several reasons, the first being that it is too risky in a piece this sensitive & transparent. But I do want the harpist to have some freedom of creativity; a waterfall is never the same from moment to moment; why then should it be scored & played exactly the same way in every concert or recording ... ?

Thursday, May 10

Finished The Forest & will give Myra a copy on Saturday when I see her. I am pleased.

Saturday, May 12
11:15 p.m.

Carolyn & the children came today, for my mother’s Memorial Mass - just in time for the crab apple tree in bloom in the back garden & the blue haze of forget-me-nots against the deep purple & orange tulips, like a painting, a beautiful painting ... M. sat on the bench under the apple tree & Carolyn stood under the blossoms. Cooler today. Removed more leaves from the roses. Rang Suki’s doorbell, feeling like Paul Revere: “Time to uncover the roses, tell Kate”.

Ian left the little Star Wars figures I had bought for him arranged in little scenes in the upstairs big room: small Tusken raiders lined up at intervals on the long bookshelf, guarding the hills of Tatooine; rebel soldiers hiding from the Empire near the television studio tapes; storm troopers by the couch; Greedo & other minor characters hidden by the big clay pots; Han Solo, Lando & Chewbacca behind the tv set; others tucked away in corners, in cabinets ...

Myra & Laura played at the Mass for my mother, Winter Birds & Sunlight By the Falls from Visions; Elegie during Communion. All three pieces again after the Mass, as people were leaving. Friends came; Chris left his shoulder bag in a pew. I meditated almost throughout & was fairly thrown into another realm, a very beautiful one. Carolyn & the children each put a single daffodil at the feet of Our Lady’s statue during Communion, & then bowed to her. It was very touching ... I felt more than half in another realm the entire day.

Laura agreed to perform & record Images, & I thanked her. Gave Myra the revised score to The Forest; she is leaving for New York City tomorrow, but will return to Ithaca at the end of the month. We can work on the Songs cycle when she returns.

I will try to begin copying out the revised score to The Crescent next week.

Sunday, May 13
Windgarth House

Rough at the Point today, a north wind. Raked the beach and worked in the gardens; thought about The Crescent, the second song in the Unsung Songs cycle. High 50's; sunny. Sat on the dock in the sun, dozed off; heavenly. M. went for a bike ride, I went inside; sadly, I cannot be outside alone at Windgarth. I could never make it to the hospital if I were stung by a yellow jacket - well, I don’t drive & the ambulance would never reach me in time, not at Windgarth.

Pondered further on The Crescent, the harp cadenza, where to put it. This time the harp will portray the stars, & the sounds will be more ethereal ... And there will be no motives or melodies in the other instruments, only the held harmonic tone.

Monday, May 14

An e-mail from Mark:
Dear Laurie,

Yes, all is fine, although I must admit that I seem to have wandered from the path of describing my experience of twelve note music. I will get back on to the path this evening when I will write out my 'dialog' and present it to you. I am hoping there will be some interest in it. In my discussions with other 12-note composers, a strand is apparent that will become clear.

In the meantime, keep composing. I am intending to make some progress with the piano sonata and possibly the trio this week.

kind regards,

I e-mailed him back a short message:

Hello dear Mark! Well now I am curious to see what you have discovered ...

The best of luck in all that you do.

Saturday, May 19

M. is gone for nine days. Finished copying out the score to the third song in the Unsung Songs cycle: The First Snow. Made very few changes. Took a look at the fourth song, The Storm, and decided the words need to be rewritten. Which means everything will change. I wrote these songs so very quickly, and unlike the Images, we never had a run through rehearsal. So I never had the opportunity to hear them & make the needed changes... Other projects and recordings intervened. Hopefully I will never leave a piece unfinished this long again.

Sunday, May 20

Rewrote the words to The Storm. Unlike the first three songs in the cycle, these last three are many pages in length. Decided to leave The Storm revisions and changes for later.

Monday, May 21

Began the fifth song in the cycle, Sailboats. These songs were written before I had a chance to speak with Myra about the harp and its technical limitations and difficulties. After our talk in the garden that day, when she asked me to write for the harp - she left town for some months. Now I realize that a good number of the patterns I wrote for the harp in this song are either too technically difficult or will not achieve the effect I wanted.

One thing I did achieve was the lightness of feeling of an afternoon at the lake, the gentle waves and the wind and the sun. In this song I used very slow, almost static harmonic rhythm - which works very nicely. I also achieved a transparency and simplicity which fits the text.

The difficulty with revising a piece this many years later is the fear of wrecking something that no longer exists internally. These songs were sketched out in 2001, six years ago. Since then so much has happened in my life and in the world; my compositional style has gone through many changes since then. My inner ear has changed. So in order to revise these songs I must first recapture something in myself that is fairly elusive, a memory.

Tuesday, May 22
2 a.m.

Finished the first draft of the revision of Sailboats tonight. Not that many changes, but still many decisions to make - especially in the orchestration. Who plays what. My goal is to maintain the transparency, but I have added and subtracted some lines to help the flow. In changing the harp part, I was left with some gaps .... So the task was to fill them and yet maintain simplicity, the simplicity suggested by the words of the text. It is a day at the lake, two people in love walking the beach and watching sailboats.

This song follows The Storm and The First Snow and was meant to contrast them. The First Snow and The Storm are paired, as are Sailboats and the final song, The Feather. The third song, The First Snow, begins the storm of song IV. Sailboats uses the first half of the text that The Feather completes. If I had not opened these scores in order to revise them - I would not remember I had done this. In fact I would not recognize many of the melodies or harmonies, much less the overall form. It is not until we begin to rehearse & record what I have written that I learn the pieces I wrote. Those ideas come through me so quickly I cannot remember them as soon as they are written down.

When Sergei Rachmaninov first came to America, his beautiful piece for two pianos was playing on the radio. A friend later said Rachmaninov listened for a while - and then asked who had written it.

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