Writing for the String Quartet

A close up of my cello

A close-up of my cello

I attended a very inspiring workshop this weekend, organized by Chris Lawry and Andy Glover of the Open College of the Arts. In case you don’t know, the OCA is a fine institution that offers distance learning in arts subjects including music. It is the only one that I know that actually offers practical courses in composition. It is through them that I studied music composition a few years ago. Luckily they kindly still allow ex-students to attend some of their specialist study workshops.

This weekend focused on writing for the string quartet and for flute and piano,and we were encouraged to submit pieces and have them played by real musicians. I have been interested in writing for strings for some time, and have been doing my best to understand the intricacies of string techniques – which can be pretty complex and baffling to the uninitiated – maybe even to the initiated too.

So it was a great chance to have my writing played (and critiqued) by a tame string quartet ( the Take Four quartet, thanks to them). It was a relief to find that I must have been working along the right lines, because they seemed to understand what I was on about.

The assignment was to composeĀ  a set of variations based on the ‘La Follia’ theme popular with many composers in the baroque period.

When writing my piece I came to the conclusion that the number of possible variations of the theme is probably infinite. I found it quite helpful to think about what I wanted to preserve, which was some hint of the rhythmic shape of the sarabande, with the alternating pattern of stresses on the second and first beats of the bar.

The piece explores a variety of string techniques, including legato, detached, staccato, saltando and sul pont bowing.

You can hear a computer realization of my piece below.



Since the original posting I have revised the piece, and have made it available on sheetmusicplus: http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/la-follia-digital-sheet-music/20066936?ac=1&_requestid=5468072

Painting: View from Victoria Park


A View from Victoria Park, Bath

I have been trying out painting in acrylics rather than oils recently. They are a bit harder to handle, because they dry very quickly – it makes mixing colours on the canvas quite hard. But it is also an advantage, it makes it possible to carry on with a painting as long as you want, and even finish it in one go, no more having to leave it for a day or two so that the paint dries.

This one is a view from Victoria Park in Bath, in the early evening.