Composer 1’s work “A Complaint” is based on William Wordsworth’s poem of the same title.  Please view the score here and listen to it below.

This work has an apt sense of gesture, time, and structure.  The opening gestures of the work return to us at the end, in a “bookending” format.  However, the opening section gives way to other well-defined sections, so the original material is refreshing when it returns at the end.

The sectional nature of this piece works, and each section is given enough time to breathe, but it seems that this work could blend the sections and blur the boundaries between them even more convincingly.  For example, the piece could start one of the sections early in one instrument/voice, and the rest slowly join and transition seamlessly into the new section.

The composer is thinking on the right track when using performance indications (eg. “Use soft drumsticks, to ease off the sound”, and expressive text (eg. “grandioso”).  It seems like some of the expressive text may be a bit too abstract for performers to realize it (eg. “in an ancient flow”), but I do not think that abstract expressive text is bad–I think it can just be a bit refined here.

This piece was notated in Noteflight, an online scoring program, so please take the following notational comments with a grain of salt–I am not sure how the program is messing with the engraving of this piece, and how much is composer technique:

  • The use of articulations and expressions is great!  Just be sure that the articulations are clear as to what they apply to, and that there are not any confusing articulations (eg. page 37, bar 4, snare drum staccato with fermata, on a quarter note)
  • The slurs used should connect to noteheads, unless the percussion is able to ring freely (in that case use “l.v.” to indicate it should ring out)
  • I am glad that the composer understands that vocal expressions and other markings go above the staff!  Just be sure that this is consistent–there are times when these markings are below the staff, taking up space where the text is

I really like the clarinet writing, and the sense of orchestration.  The composer clearly has heard this in his head, and is not relying solely on MIDI playback.  With that said, I would suggest removing/slowing down the extremely fast gestures of two notes, or turning them into grace notes, or even just slowing down the tempo so they can be heard.

The structure of this piece is quite convincing, and the vocal writing has a good sense of range and how to not tire out a singer completely.  In addition, the higher vocal range is used in a more climactic way, both serving the piece and not expecting too much of the singer.

I always want to give composers music to study and listen to.  Here are some suggestions for study and listening:

  1. Chichester Psalms, by Leonard Bernstein, for experimenting with vocal rhythm and ensemble unity
  2. Petroushkates, by Joan Tower, for ensemble writing and understanding how long players can maintain a texture and constant notes
  3. Beyond the Veil, by Andrey Stolyarov, for exploring further vocal technique and choral writing (http://notenova.com/catalog/work/beyond-the-veil/)

This piece has a really good sense of form and very good compositional instincts.  The composer is studying composition at the moment, and I encourage them to get as many performances and different teachers as possible, for feedback, perspective, and growth.

Great job!

Dan