Assignment 2 – Advanced Music Composition

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

Technical Presentation:
This, my second assignment, is the first time that I am submitting a Sibelius score for my tutor on this my final composition module:

Amy Balcomb Alice in Wonderland Short Score Assignment 2

It sounds like this:

I think the technical presentation of my score is okay but I am unsure currently about keeping each section flowing into another with the word ‘attacca’ notated. This is more a point around structure and something that I will give more thought to as I progress through the composing process. It may well be that I need to create 2-4 movements and effectively join sections together, but thought will need to be given to how the tempo changes will work.

I have submitted this first part of my composition as a short score. I have not started to arrange the music yet, nor have I added any articulation, dynamics or expression markings, and therefore, the score is quite sparse at present but given the volume of music required for this composition, I want to use these early assignments to get the initial notes down.

Compositional skills:
Each and every section of music for this piece has been written fairly spontaneously. With each section, I have considered a selection of things;

a) Is there a character? If so, what is the personality of that character and how can I represent that in the music?
b) Is there any action that takes place? If so, is it fast-paced or slow? Is the activity normal or unusual (a valid question in Wonderland).
c) Do I need to reprise a previous character theme?
d) Is there an obvious ‘style’ to the section? Should it feel a certain way, i.e. is it a dance? (this point is helped by the other 3 points, too).

The sections of music that I have written to date, together with my thoughts on potential instrumentation for symphony orchestra are as follows:

1) By the Riverbank
This is a gentle, lilting, repetitive section that captures the movement of the water and the dreaminess of the titular character, Alice, as she finds herself feeling sleepy on the riverbank. The harmonic movement of the piece is descending and chromatic, representing both the lulling of Alice’s senses and the flowing nature of the water, and Alice’s theme is slow and relaxed.
Anticipated orchestration: harp, piano or celeste playing main piano (quavers) motif with a flute or an oboe playing Alice’s theme. Perhaps pedal note strings and pizzicato bass.

2) The White Rabbit
This section needed to contrast in tempo with the opening; there is a very real sense of urgency with this character considering he is always late. Therefore, I wanted to write a note (the opening E in the left hand) that plays continually through the section and which plays on every beat, which helps to drive the section forward. This section is faster than the opening and it doesn’t take long to feel that the music is ‘on the move’. The melodic curve of the rabbit theme is quirky, bouncy, and flighty. There is an interlude-style change in the middle of the section, which I wrote to represent Alice’s growing curiosity – she’s noticed the rabbit and wants to follow him. It’s a lyrical motif that gives a welcome, albeit momentary contrast to the constancy of the repetitiveness of the rabbit’s motif, which is soon reprised.
Anticipated orchestration: bassoon playing repeated note. Oboe playing melody. Strings providing supporting harmony.

3) Curiosity before falling, then Falling Down
There was little doubt what needed to happen in this section musically; it needed to descend. It also needed to represent the tumbling motion of Alice as she falls down the rabbit hole. The section starts steadily, which is quite deliberate, with the Curiosity. I didn’t just want the music to career head-long down at full pelt for the entire time; it would have sounded too chaotic. I felt that Alice’s process of falling required a moment whereby she teeters on the edge with curiosity, peering over the edge craning her neck to catch a glimpse of where the rabbit has disappeared. It is this very action that is captured early in the section before we realise that she’s peered too far and she’s lost her balance and has started to fall (bar 151). The notation commences at a high register to allow greater room for descent, and the notes escalate downwards, sometimes solo, sometimes in discordant intervals to add to the building chaos.
Anticipated orchestration: unsure at this point but I do expect it to be quite contrapuntal between instruments.

4) Drink Me, Eat Me
I felt with this section that it needed a brief period of calm and rest at the start; Alice has reached the bottom of the hole before discovering the bottle of potion and cake. I decided this would be a good time to reprise, albeit briefly, Alice’s theme for the first 13 bars. And then we experience the first episode of ‘strange’ in the composition at bar 231 where Alice drinks and eats things that makes her body larger and smaller. A change of direction, reflecting the changes in Alice, move us to a contrasting lyrical passage from bar 242 to the end of the section, leading us into the next; the Dodo.
Anticipated orchestration: unsure again at this point. I’d like to make the most of some unusual effects and sounds that can be created, perhaps with varying bowing techniques in the strings and the use of mutes, etc, with brass?
5) The Dodo, The Caucus Race
The half-way point of the composition, this two-part section introduces an extinct bird and a fruitless, pointless circular race that Alice participates in with various small mammals in the hope of drying off after getting sopping wet. The race is pointless because nobody wins and they go round in circles. My approach to this section, therefore, was to start with the Dodo. How do you write music about a creature you’ve never seen in real life?! I remembered watching a David Attenborough programme based in the Natural History Museum and they animated lots of the exhibits with computer graphics so that they all ‘came alive’ at night. One these creatures was the Dodo!
With a visual interpretation to go on, I wrote the motif based on its waddling gait and its inquisitive beak (e.g. the repeated B-note quavers in bar 256). With only 21 bars written for this creature, the Caucus Race makes its appearance at bar 276. I tried to make the melody line really simple yet go round on itself. I modulated the key from F-sharp major to B-flat major at bar 292. Bar 324 sees us return to F-sharp major again where the melody line repeats but an octave higher. The section ends at bar 343.
Anticipated orchestration: unknown as yet.

I find writing for the piano very liberating and it frees me up to getting the notes down; I don’t need to concern myself with orchestration, although at times, I get ideas for certain instruments tat I would like to use when I come to arrange it for the symphony orchestra.

I promised to compose 1/3 of the entire 20-minute piece by this assignment deadline and I have written 9 minutes 15 seconds, which I’m thrilled about because I am almost half way through. I wasn’t sure how I would mentally ‘take’ to the idea of writing an extended piece of music, but at this stage, having written what I have so far, I feel confident that I will be able to write the full 20 minutes of music with relative ease. I do have concerns around keeping the structure logical, as well as making each section both unique yet stylistic to the piece as a whole.

In my first assignment, I outlined the various story curves that I was keen to include in my piece. I think given my notes above, it shows that my creativity is ‘taking’ to this project really well and I have to confess that I am really enjoying it.

I originally felt drawn to writing a symphony but on further consideration decided that this would have been too restrictive; I wanted a freer form that would allow me to explore different styles. I therefore decided to write a freer style, a Fantasia. I have done some research on this which I have written up on my blog.



Writing for a symphony orchestra will give me a full colour palette of sound at my disposal. I won’t lie; at this stage it feels a little bit daunting to be considering such a vast array of instruments but I just need to take one section at a time and work methodically through.

I will continue to listen to film scores to get my ‘ear’ used to hearing and identifying the instrumentation used; it’s sometimes difficult to hear the balance and effect of certain instruments used together. I also think that it’s important to have moments that aren’t as densely orchestrated; I believe the music needs moments where it can catch its breath and in turn, will create contrast. I didn’t get a chance in my previous compositions at Level 2 to reduce the instrumentation back because the assignments were for very specific groupings; I now have the freedom to do this.

I also want to explore in one of my sections percussion and cross-rhythms to add variety and to demonstrate my diversity. I lack confidence in the notation of rhythm, though, and this is evident in my previous compositions; the percussive elements are minimal. I will be listening to more Steve Reich, John Cage, Christopher Deane and Ney Rosauro to see if this will help.

Critical Review:
I can now confirm the title for my critical review: –

‘To what extent are Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ examples of programme music and how effectively do they tell a story?’

Now that I have the title in place, I have started my research, commencing with Beethoven. I am listening to the piece carefully, working through each of the movements in turn. I have realised that each movement has to be looked at individually before evaluating the piece as a whole. Beethoven sets a different ‘scene’ for each of the five movements and gives each one of them a specific title, so it will be very interesting to get to know them and see how he interprets the scenes musically.


Stylistic Awareness:
Listening, reading, research: The following reading and listening research helped me to broaden my knowledge and assisted me in developing my ideas at this stage:

* Huscher, P. (Unknown). Program Notes: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (Pastoral). Available: Last accessed 18 April 2015
* Ku, A. (Unknown). Programme Notes – Orchestra Concert, Vredenburg Great Hall in Utrecht. Available: Last accessed 23 April 2015
* Unknown. (Unknown). Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (Pastoral). Available: Last accessed 17 April 2015
* Unknown. (Unknown). Beethoven Pastoral Symphony (6th) – A Love of Nature. Available: Last accessed 17 April 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). Fantasia (music). Available: (music). Last accessed 16 April 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). Fantasia (music). Available: Last accessed 18 April 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). List of program music. Available: Last accessed 15 February 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). Symphony No.6 (Beethoven). Available: (Beethoven). Last accessed 08 April 2015

* Unknown. (Unknown). What is program music?. Available: Last accessed 08 April 2015


* Beethoven, Ludwig van – Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral): Movements 1 & 2
* Desplat, Alexandre – The Imitation Game: ‘Alan’
* Desplat, Alexandre – The King’s Speech: ‘Lionel & Bertie’
* Desplat, Alexandre – The Queen: ‘The Queen’
* Silvestri, Alan – Forrest Gump: ‘Theme’

Assignment 3:
By my next tutorial deadline – Monday 13 July – I will be getting the following work completed:

* Compose the next two sections of music, namely ‘The Caterpillar & Mushroom            Eating’, and the ‘Cheshire Cat’. I hope to write more, but this will be a minimum expectation.
* Give further thought to the orchestration of the music already written.
* Make any adjustments/changes to music already written as recommended by tutor.
* Listen to percussive music (composers noted above), film music.
* Listen closely to movements 1 & 2 of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ and analyse the techniques used.


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