Music Recording: Schubert, Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major

Music Recording: Schubert, Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major

A recording of Schubert’s Imromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major.

This feels like a distinctly unsummery piece of music, so perhaps an odd choice for a July recording. The hardest part always seems to be getting into the right mood before starting — my favourite recordings (such as Mitsuko Uschida’s) have a sense of unearthly stillness in the opening thanks just to the way they play the first three notes. I always feel like I struggle to pull it off.

The structure of the piece is, on its face, fairly simple. There’s an opening “A” section in G-flat major; a “B” section that moves through multiple keys; a repeat of the “A” section, in G-flat major again; and a “Coda”, also in G-flat major. ABA+Coda — not pushing the boat there; this is an extremely common structure.

The simplicity of the structure isn’t necessarily apparent, however. While the A section is fairly easy to keep track of — featuring extremely regular, periodic phrasing and frequent cadences — you can get quite easily lost in the B section. (This is true whether you’re a performer or a listener!) And the piece is texturally entirely homogenous. The quaver-arpeggio accompaniment is constant throughout, providing a forward momentum that seems to pay little regard for key change or phrase endings.

The B section, from around 1:34, is extremely expansive, featuring multiple subsections — and the divisions between the subsections are not always precisely defined; there are often linking passages of 2-3 bars that don’t seem to belong precisely to the preceding subsection or the following subsection. The modulations in this section are unending: the B section begins in E-flat minor, but moves through C-flat major (2:02), E-flat major (3:10) and (briefly, sort of) A-flat minor before returning to G-flat major for the recapitulation of the A section (3:44). The modulations are all highly dramatised: the B section feels as though it spends more time “between keys” than it does in any single tonal area.

The Coda (5:02) is straightforward from a composer/analyst’s point of view, but that makes it one of the more difficult passages to pull off. There’s an incredible simplicity — almost naivety — to the melodic line, and it’s tricky to know quite what to do with it as a result.

Apologies for the sound of some pages being turned — hopefully they don’t distract too much from the music!

Music Recording: Variations on a Pentatonic Theme

Music Recording: Variations on a Pentatonic Theme

A recording of an original composition: ‘Variations on a Pentatonic Theme’, for classical guitar.

Far from a perfect performance, but the best I can do for now…

This is probably my first composition that I’m still proud of by time of completion. You may need to turn your volume up—it’s not a great recording; we’re still figuring out how to use our new recording device.

This piece took several months to write, and many more to learn. It featured a composition process that was far more organic, and as a result far more enjoyable, than for previous projects I’ve worked on. Most of the variations came about as a result of improvising and experimenting on my guitar, rather than composing directly onto music software.

The structure of the piece is ‘theme & variations’, though it might not sound like it at first, as there’s quite a lot of variation. It starts off with a short introduction which uses melodic motives from the main theme. There is then the main theme, which has a pentatonic melody and jazz-influenced harmony. The 1st variation is a series of arpeggios based around the harmony of the theme, but with added pedal notes. The 2nd’s melody is an inversion of that of the main theme, but the variation is in the style of Villa-Lobos, with a melody in the bass and an off-beat accompaniment in higher parts. The 3rd and 4th take various harmonic and melodic motives from the main theme and splice them about everywhere. The last variation treats the main theme’s melody fugally. There’s then a bridge section, which takes some prominent motives from the main theme round the cycle of fifths. A Neapolitan 6th then brings the piece back into the tonic key (A major) for the coda, which develops ideas from the introduction. All sections contrast texturally and stylistically.

Influences come from just about everywhere, but include Villa-Lobos (Prelude no.1), Roland Dyens (Tango en Skai), Leo Brouwer (Danza Del Altiplano), Jorge Morel (Danza Brasilera), J.S. Bach (Goldberg Variations), Britten, and Chopin.