Assignment 4 – Reflective Commentary

I have used the Assessment Criteria to help me reflect and evaluate my fourth assignment:

Technical Presentation
This fourth assignment required me to compose for small orchestra, which vastly increased the number of instruments on the stave that I was writing for. Initially, this felt intimidating, but after writing the short scores of both the opening and closing credits of the theme tune, I was starting to ‘hear’ which sections of the orchestra would work best with different elements of the tune. I am proud of the way the presentation of the score looked despite my initial fears.

Compositional skills
Part 4 – Expanding the Band took my knowledge of the strings section and then nudged me along into more instrumentation. I would have enjoyed more time getting to know the strings, and this is becoming a theme for me as I progress through this course; we don’t spend enough time digesting a particular group of instruments before being moved onto another very different group.

However, that said, I quickly noticed some parallels between the string quartet and the wind and brass quintets, albeit the latter groups added an instrument. In very simplistic terms, I noticed there were those instruments that predominated the melody line (namely flutes and trumpets), those that took responsibility for the bass (bassoon and tuba) and the remaining harmonised in homophonic or polyphonic manner in-between. Once I mastered this out, it lowered the intimidation I was previously feeling and I got to grips with Part 4 quite readily.

Spending time listening to various quintets gave me a lot of insight into each group and how the instruments worked together. I also realised that it’s often what you don’t write and the amount of ‘space’ you give between each of the instruments that makes the difference between a good and a brilliant quintet.

Understanding how to develop my arrangements from quintet to small orchestra size felt like another huge hurdle to jump and I wasn’t totally sure how to approach it. Once I had my short scores written on the piano, it was a question of ‘hearing’ them in my head before the arrangements took shape.

I started with the melody and the bass lines, being conscious to create space early on in the composition because I wanted a full, rich texture towards the middle to end of the pieces.

The short scores for Assignment 4 didn’t take long to write, which is usual for me. I wanted the theme tune to be simple and catchy, two observations from the research listening I undertook. I also came up with an imaginary title for the sitcom ‘Eat Yer Greens’ because without it, I found it quite tricky to write the theme.

I did originally want the trumpet or bassoon to play the initial theme to give it a more ‘Northern’ feel, but when I allocated this part to these instruments, it just didn’t sound right. The flute in its high register with a gentle pizzicato oboe, cello and double bass accompaniment seemed to strike the right mix.

The revised version of this assignment witnessed a couple of changes, which I’m confident has improved the composition in various ways:

1) I created more support in the accompaniment parts in bar 4 by adding a new 3-part motive between the Horn in F, first violin and bassoon. By doing this, I gave a stronger lead into the second half of the piece and also emphasised the rhythm.
2) I wrote an interjecting accompaniment line from bar 1 for the Horn in F, because I felt the texture needed bolstering a little from the original version.
3) The melody line in the second half needed more stronger rhythmic support. I had originally doubled the flute’s line with the first violin, flute and viola. I changed this by writing instead a harmony line for the first violin and viola.
4) In bar 5, I added the cello to play with the second violin the upbeat into bar 6 to add support and again, emphasise the rhythm at this point.
5) I removed all the staccato marks originally written on tied notes, which wasn’t editorially correct.
6) I created more dynamics throughout.

Stylistic Awareness
Listening, reading, research: 
I have read various articles in books and on the internet to help me with Part 4. These are my references:

Carl Nielsen – ‘Wind Quintet Op. 43’
This is a lovely piece of music and really gives you the opportunity to hear each of the 5 instruments so well but also acknowledge how well they sound when played together as a quintet.
The bassoon opens with the clarinet and flute joining in and providing a question and answer session with the horn.  The tune passes throughout the group.  It is a relaxing, happy piece that gently flows along.  Some nice contrasts between homophonic and polyphonic texture and the piece was consonant sounding throughout so no harsh harmonies, which I was glad of.

Samuel Barber – ‘Summer Music for the Wind Quintet’
An atonal chordal unison opening with the horn and bassoon in its high register, which always makes it sound more like a clarinet. The flute enters with a very decorative flourishing entry, chromatic and atonal in nature.  The clarinet then enters and is echoed by the bassoon before playing in unison.  The piece has some dissonant moments and the texture remains quite open throughout with each instrument alternating through the polyphonic texture.  It feels very lazy and laid back, perhaps in keeping with its title.

Arnold – ‘Three Shanties for Wind Quintet’
Mvmt 1: Allegro con brio
’The Drunken Sailor’ theme tune came through this movement many times in various different guises which was fun.  Arnold likes to pair up the instruments in this very lively movement, which has various styles and feels about it.  It moves from its fast opening tempo to a more relaxed bossa nova style rhythm at 1.30 approx where the oboe and flute alternate with a chromatic melody line.  It demonstrates the agility of the flute perfectly this movement.  A very rich, polyphonic textured piece that is fun to listen to.

Mvmt 2: Allegretto semplice
This is in contrast to the first movement very gentle and lilting, with the horn alternating with the flute for the melody line.  The polyphonic texture is easy to listen to, the music feels that it has enough room to breath with each instrument coming and going gently.  Arnold writes into the harmony suspensions that don’t seem to get resolved, and these stand out for me.

Mvmt 3: Allegro vivace
Very dynamic and lively movement. The flute takes the melody before passing it between the other parts.  It is lyrical and slightly dissonant.  It almost showcases the flute and horn as being the most natural lyrical melodic instruments.

Hindemith – ‘Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2’
Mvmt 1: Lustig
I wasn’t completely taken with this movement.  It opens with the clarinet playing a very dissonant, chromatic line, which is then passed to the oboe.  I didn’t enjoy it enough to persevere with it and I stopped listening roughly half way through.

Ibert – ‘Three Pieces breves for Wind Quintet’
Mvmt 1: Allegro
There were some nice variations in the main theme and the movement felt open in texture.  There were many dissonant harmonies, though, and the melody lines very chromatic.  It wasn’t for me; it seemed to play on the squeakiness of the instruments and it was a little harsh.

Mvmt 2: Andante
This opens with a flute solo before the clarinet joins them; they work well together in this setting.  It had a fugal feel with the many polyphonic lines.  The clarinet takes up the main line with the flute playing higher in the second theme part – there is a nice contrast between these two instruments. The bassoon joins in with the oboe and one can really hear the difference – and similarity – in the instruments.  I enjoyed this movement more than the first.

J.S. Bach’s ‘Arioso’ – played by the St. Louis Brass Quintet
The 1st trumpet carries the melody line with the tuba taking the bass part.  The other three instruments provide the harmony in-between.  Occasionally, the horn and the trombone would take up the melody for a while, but the trumpet was the predominant sound.  The horn sounds beautiful mixed in amongst these other brass instruments and I think sounds better in brass that woodwind.

Albinoni’s ‘Sonata St. Mark Allegro’ – played by the St. Louis Brass Quintet
The trumpet has the melody in this piece also.  It is fast and scalic, very agile and capable of quick runs.  The tuba plays the bass part once more and balances well against the trumpet.  The 2nd trumpet echoes the first trumpet and we see the horn and trombone providing the harmonic support.  They also get their own melodic lines, which create a polyphonic texture.

Gershwin’s ‘Porgy & Bess: Summertime’ – played by White Nights Brass Quintet
After a unison performance at the start, the 1st trumpet takes the melody with the other instruments alternating the accompanying homophonic harmony parts.  When the trumpet reprises the main melody line it plays louder and it changes the colour/tone of the instrument making it richer and piercing.

Lew Pollack’s ‘That’s a Plenty!’ – played by the Gomalan Brass Quintet
This piece is fun, brash and energetic. Once again, the trumpet plays the main tune and the bass is supported by the tuba.  There’s lots of comical effects, the trombone is muted at one point.  I enjoyed this piece.

In summary, it appears that the two instruments that are very obviously placed in the arrangement to lead and support are the trumpet and tuba, with the melody and bass parts assigned to them.  The 2nd trumpet, horn and trombone work closely together to provide homophonic harmony notes but can occasionally get their own contrasting melodic lines that give more polyphonic interest.

In preparation for the 4th assignment, I thought it important to understand what sitcom theme tunes had already been written to see if I could get any clues:

Only Fools & Horses – Opening Credits – written by John Sullivan
This sitcom is about a pair of brothers making their livelihoods out of market trading, wheeling and dealing and trying to become millionaires.
This theme tune is a song based upon the 12-bar blues.  Instrumentation is quite simple with drums, guitar, piano and vocals.  It is simple and catchy.

Only Fools & Horses – Closing Credits – written by John Sullivan
This is different to the opening credits and opens with a solo drum.  Vocals then come in speaking the lyrics, not singing them.  Then a guitar and piano join in to accompany the voice singing.  Again, it is very simple with chords moving between I-IV in the verse.  It is catchy once again; a tune that you can remember after only a few listening’s and one that you can hum.

The Good Life – Opening Credits – written by Burt Rhodes
This sitcom is about a married, working class couple who try to live ‘the good life’ by being as self-sufficient in their garden as possible whilst living next to a typical middle-class couple who have delusions of grandeur and who look down on their efforts.
This is a bright, catchy theme tune with piano, bass guitar, and trumpet.  It alternates between set chord patterns (I-IV and then V-I).  It has a very light-hearted feel to it, as well as being comical.

The Vicar of Dibley – Opening Credits – written & arranged by Howard Goodall
This sitcom is about a female vicar who resides in a small village called Dibley.  It follows her interactions with her parishioners, her council meetings, the village community life.
Howard Goodall takes the famous psalm ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ and arranges it for 4-part harmony, giving the theme tune a religious feel, which is suitable and in keeping with the plot.  Initially a string quartet outlines the main theme with a church organ before a soloist sings the first verse.  The choir then joins in.  The theme is serious, solemn and doesn’t belie the sitcom it is written for.

Fawlty Towers – Opening Credits – written by Dennis Wilson
This sitcom is about a small hotel by the sea and the management of it by Basil and Sybil Fawlty. It juxtaposes the capable and natural hotelier Sybil with the insufferable, clumsy and socially inept Basil.  He spends most of his time being shouted at by Sybil and in turn, he then shouts at the staff and the guests.
This is a very comical theme tune played by a string quartet which sets a very classical, upper class feel for the programme.  Perhaps it suggests that the Fawlty’s have illusions of grandeur?  The tune varies in the middle with doubled notes and it slows right down before the main theme is picked up again.

Blackadder – Opening Credits – written by Howard Goodall
This sitcom is about an individual called Blackadder and his sidekick Baldrick.  Each series is set in a different period of history and the theme tune changes in style and arrangement accordingly.
Series 1 is set in fictional King Richard IV’s era and the theme tune has a medieval feel to it.  The melody is played on a trumpet and has drums to accompany it.
Series 2 is set in Elizabeth 1’s era and the theme is played by a recorder over a light string accompaniment before getting a rock feel with electric guitar doubling the melody towards the end.
Series 3 is set in George III’s reign, a more elaborate, decorative world where frivolity and Bourgeois ruled.  The theme tune changes to match this period, played out in a Concerto Grosso Baroque style with oboe, harpsichord and cello with drums entering before the end.
Series 4 is set in the Great War of 1917 and thus, Goodall writes a military style arrangement of marching drums, trumpets and whistles.
It is a very catchy theme tune and varied beautifully to suit the historical period the series relates to.

Dad’s Army – Opening Credits – written by Jimmy Perry & Derek Taverner
This sitcom is about the Home Guard during World War 2 following a group of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for active service.
The theme tune was supposed to be a gentle pastiche of wartime songs and it features a song ‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler?’.  It has the feel of the old wartime tea dance music with drums, strings and trumpets and a vocalist.  It’s very tongue-in-cheek and sums up the attitude of the volunteers poking fun at Hitler.  It’s extremely catchy, as with all of the theme tunes, and you end up humming it for days after hearing it.

One Foot In The Grave – Opening Credits – written, composed & performed by Eric Idle
This sitcom is about Victor Meldrew and his long-suffering wife.  Victor is always moaning about life, usually as a result of the exploits he gets himself into.  A grumbling old man who is not getting old gracefully.
The theme tune is a titular song.  It is comical, tongue-in-cheek and jovial.  Again, highly catchy and completely appropriate.

Porridge – Opening Credits
This sitcom is about the life inside prison.
When I first researched this theme tune I kept coming across a ‘theme tune’ that didn’t actually have any music written for it.  Instead, it was the audio track of a judge passing sentence upon the lead character, the sound of keys jangling, doors slamming, keys in locks; every possible sound that is synonymous with prison life.  Very powerful and effective.  As I did further research, I came across a piece of music that was a song called ‘We Dig Another Tunnel’ which was written by Max Harris, but I couldn’t find the original song to listen to.  It seems that it would have been a very fitting song given that the lead characters were locked up and always scheming on their next escape plan.

Last of the Summer Wine – Opening Credits – written by Ronnie Hazlehurst
This sitcom follows the antics of a trio of retired OAPs in Yorkshire, the exploits of whom were often at the expense of their wives or each other.
There is a lovely, English countryside feel to this theme tune.  Acoustic guitar, gentle oboe playing the main theme.  Strings and horn accompany and create a rich, lilting accompaniment.  A harp enters to pick up occasional harmony notes and a xylophone plays in unison with the oboe on the melody line towards the end.  It’s quite sappy and quintessentially British.  Catchy but not a favourite.

Open All House – Opening Credits – written by Max Harris
This sitcom follows the trading of a small family run greengrocers up North.  This sitcom in particular was one that I wanted to research given the brief for Assignment 4, and I couldn’t quite remember it before I found it on YouTube.
I was surprised at its simplicity; a solo trumpet plays a slow, reflective tune that felt a little melancholy.  It summed up for me that this shop has been running for many years through many generations and perhaps the music was supposed to reflect this.

Rising Damp – Opening Credits – written by David Lindup
This sitcom follows a landlord and his medical student tenant of a Victorian town house.  Various other tenants come and go, one of whom is a lady who the main character falls in love with.
The theme tune is played by a piano with a banjo and double-bass accompaniment.  It has a ‘rag and bone-man’ kind of feel, someone who is down on their luck.  Woodwind join in half way through the tune before it fades.  I liked this theme tune.


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