Reflective Account 4
Specific reflections on my tutor’s formative feedback:
The task was to write a 2-page prelude; the submission is 5 pages long. It is very important to read each task very carefully, especially at university level.
I failed to grasp that the actual page count was of the essence in terms of the Assignment requirements. To me it seemed like such a vague and inaccurate measuring tool, so I dismissed it as unimportant which was clearly an error in judgement on my part. I should have queried this and asked my tutor for clarification.
The method I followed when deciding on the length of my prelude was to pick a Debussy prélude of a similar tempo and note density and count how many bars fit on 2 pages. I then made my prélude the same bar length. However, when it came to entering the notation in the Sibelius software I could not make it fit. The default staff size in Sibelius is somewhat larger than the publishing standard at Debussy’s time. Since my Sibelius skills were entirely lacking, what should have been a 2-page prelude turned into 5 pages. I have since taken a Sibelius course and have learnt how to format the pages properly and change the staff size in the engraving rules. Now my prelude fits comfortably on two pages.
The strict word limit makes things tricky, but it would have been good to include reference to a couple of specific Debussy preludes in the accompanying text.
Not referencing the specific Debussy préludes I had based mine on was an oversight. It is quite tricky to fit all the information into the 250-word limit, but I will try to find a way of adding these references to my revised assignment.
‘… both the right hand and left hand would benefit from much more refinement. The left hand part is harmonically unadventurous; Debussy explored more varied chord shapes (there are many here that are in root position, or first inversion – he explored more open shapes, perhaps with the root and the fifth at the bottom, and the third higher up in the texture). The exploration of chord extensions is good, but the chords themselves stick too rigidly to the key. More extravagant choices would have been beneficial, even if they were subtle. One technique Debussy particularly enjoyed was bitonality, where a phrase was repeated in the right hand, and the left hand material changed (and moved into a different key).’
I have re-written the piece using more chord inversions, ‘faraway’ chords and included a bitonal section where the left-hand melody is transposed to the G Lydian mode whilst the right hand first plays broken chords derived from a G whole tone scale and then the G octatonic scale.
I also retained the section based around a Chinese pentatonic scale starting on G. This scale adds a prescribed harmonic interval to each scale degree. The first degree and 4th degree of the scale adds a perfect 4th, the other degrees add a major 3rd.
Greater contrasts in register could also have been used; the piece explores both high and low material for the entire duration. Perhaps you could have included a section which explores just the low register of the piano.
I explored writing sections with low register content only but could not find a satisfying way of ‘tying’ the composition together, so instead I reversed the thinking and created an introduction with only high register content.
Rhythmically, the piece is complex and indistinct. Debussy used complex rhythms, of course, mixing triplets, duplets, ties, dots and other elements to create melodies that have a rubato feel to them. However, his melodies were usually singable, tangible, and distinct. Your melody feels (and looks) improvisatory – the rhythms are unusually written, and look like they might have been recorded straight into Sibelius. Despite being dubbed an impressionist, Debussy’s melodies still contained many of the techniques used by earlier composers; repetition, sequences, motivic development.
The way I wrote the prelude was to play the melody into a DAW sequencer (Logic Audio) and then import the Midi file into Sibelius. I am not a proficient keyboard player and the imported Midi file had many timing errors, which Sibelius interpreted and transcribed as very complicated notation. At this point in time I did not really understand exactly what Sibelius was doing.
Both the melody line and the rhythmical aspect of the melody line are simpler when played and notated correctly. I have done my best to re-notate the melody to reflect this and to be easier to sight read. On my tutor’s suggestion I also listened to ‘The Little Shepard’ from Children’s Corner when editing the melody line and I have simplified the rhythmical aspects considerably and the result is a very straight forward rhythm with a couple of triplets and a few grace notes. To my ears, it is now much more singable and tangible, but I do appreciate that my perception of what is singable is heavily coloured by my own cultural background.
Lately I have reverted to mostly listening to the music I grew up with from the Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern musical traditions. It is microtonal, rhythmically complex, improvisational in nature and slowly evolving over time (sometimes hours or even days), rather than being cyclic and based on motivic development. It also tends to be lacking in harmonic content. It is very different from both Western Art music and Western popular music. I was not aware to what degree it had also influenced my writing in terms of the rhythms, the shape of my melodies and lack of proper harmonic progressions with clear cadential resolutions. Here, it has resulted in a melody line which is unfolding in a too long and ‘winding’ way to be a stylistically accurate simile of Debussy’s sparse and succinct melodies. It does lacks proper classical compositional development techniques, such as sequencing and motivic development.
In the module that followed this one I learnt much more about Classical compositional techniques. In my case, it would have been very beneficial to have done these modules in the reverse order.
I have since added some instances of transposing and sequencing to the revised version and in a couple of places I have applied the retrograde technique to the rhythm. There is a limit to the amount of adjustments I can do before it loses cohesion and some of the changes I did make were not entirely satisfactory. There are moments when it does not sound particularly musical or intuitive. Due to time restrictions I had to leave it like this for the time being, but I will return to this piece after the Assessments are over and the Submission has been graded.
The presentation of the score is inconsistent. The score is beautiful, with lots of relevant detail, and attractive spacing/margins/design but there are many errors; the right hand of bar 22 is a good example. The first note of the bar collides with a rest. Some of the notes are exceptionally difficult to read; when many high notes are used an 8va sign would have been more appropriate. The rhythmic writing is the biggest problem, however. This is quite a simple rhythm, but it has been written in a way that looks very complicated – the way in which the tied notes have been written could be simplified.
As frequently stated, I am a total beginner when it comes to notation and when I was doing this assignment, I was also a total beginner when it comes to the Sibelius notation software. I have progressed a fair amount when it comes to learning notation convention and immensely when it comes to using Sibelius, however I am still not entirely confident with the rhythmical aspects of notation, particularly when it comes to syncopation or choosing meter. I expect my Revised Assignment is less than perfect in this regard, but I really tried my best.
This was simultaneously the most difficult and the most rewarding module for me. I greatly enjoy Impressionism in general and Debussy in particular. I frequently listen to Debussy’s music and I also share Debussy’s interest in Symbolism, whole-tone and oriental music scales. Therefore, I felt enormously inspired by this assignment and very keen to attempt my own prélude.
However, I lacked the analytical ability and theoretical knowledge to fully grasp the components of his compositions and to understand the compositional techniques used. I wrote a prelude which is only somewhat similar to Debussy’s work on the surface but is constructed entirely differently. In hindsight I should have started the piece harmonically and really pushed the chord progressions into new territories. I completely failed to recognise that his compositions are driven by these great cascades of large resonant chords flying across the span of the keyboard. My own prélude is instead driven by a long snake-y melody, which is just underpinned by chords and then repeated and re-harmonised. My whole approach was flawed from the start and if I was to write another prélude, I would change my approach entirely.
Unfortunately, I have not completely managed to revise my prélude to approximate every aspect of Debussy’s préludes. Since mine was entirely based around the melody line any drastic changes to the melody causes the whole piece to unravel. I do not have the time for a complete rewrite and have therefore decided to keep my original melody, albeit cleaned up and rhythmically simplified. On my tutor’s advice I looked closely at a couple of Debussy’s pieces from ‘Children’s Corner’. The melody in ‘The Girl with the Flaxen hair’, although lovely, felt too different to mine to be used as a guideline, but ‘The Little Shepherd’ did however have some melodic similarities so I tried to use it as a model when editing down my melody. I think the edits were successful for the most part, but overall there is more work to be done for it to be entirely stylistically convincing.
I have also tried to improve the underlying chord progressions and re-notated the Sibelius score. Even these above-mentioned changes have taken me a fair amount of time and effort and although the prelude does not entirely succeed at being Debussy-esque, I have learned a lot in the process. This learning experience has very much been worth my while.