Paul Brennan – “Swinging on the Playground”

We take a stylistic turn with this submission to the young composer score call.  Paul Brennan’s piece “Swinging on the Playground” is a light, lively, rag-time-inspired work for solo piano.  The score can be found here.

The composition has a roughly AAB format, with a theme in C major.

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The “swing” on the playground is not just the swing in the eighth notes.  The octave leap down in the theme, bar 4, is used throughout to provide a lift to both the mood and melody.  Right away, in bar 5, we see the lift swing the melody back and forth, which is further suspended by a measure in 3/4 that throws off the swing but actually makes us feel lighter by omitting strong beats.

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This music is solidly grounded in the style of ragtime, evidenced by the strong use of doubled octaves, short bass note durations, octave leaps, close chromaticism, a strict sense of key but highly embellished, and a lively, springy tempo.

This work plays well on the piano, and will only speak better on a real instrument.

I would suggest that the composer add in more phrasing markings, to help a pianist who may be new to this type of music understand it.  Since this is a young composer, the performer will likely be a younger pianist who may need an introduction to the style of ragtime, or at least a refresher in it.

In addition, this piece could have even more wit and even humor, if dynamic markings were introduced.  Extreme dynamics are a great way to further widen contrasts in a work, especially in a work such as this that is light and playful.

This piece reminds me of the humoresque from my cello sonata, particularly in the closing section of this piece:

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and the grace notes in my humoresque:

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One thing that I would like to share is that my work also uses tempo fluctuations (primarily accelerando and ritardando).

Using tempo fluctuations may not work in this ragtime work, but opening up space, fluidity in time, and room to “breathe” will be a responsibility that the performer must not ignore.

This work is enjoyable, as it is a break from the sometimes overly-serious field of modern classical music.

Overall, I would recommend that the composer branch out and write chamber music, and perhaps even electronic music.  The composer’s well-placed notes, rhythms, and gestures lead me to believe that they would be well-suited at the piano roll of a MIDI editor.  In addition, the composer could orchestrate their ideas for large ensemble, for example a wind ensemble or chamber orchestra.  Perhaps a work for percussion duo or percussion trio is next for this composer.

I would recommend that the composer listen to the following works:

  1. Rush – “Superconductor” – for mixed media, upbeat tone, but with a more serious/subversive subject meter–all the while extremely catchy.
  2. Frederic Rzewski – “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” – a great exploration of thematic development via the piano.
  3. Charles Ives – “Variations on America” – it is a lively exploration of tonality, and the stretch of material and mood.  There are some great arrangements of it; I love the bombastic organ original, but some composers and arrangers also bring out new facets in the work.

Good job; well-written!

Happy composing,


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