For better or for worse one thing that many of us have had during COVID-19 is more free time. While I have been blessed that many of my students have continued lessons online, I have also had time to expand my creative output. This piece is ideal for anyone who plays piano at the intermediate level and loves passionate music from the Romantic era.
The Ballade as a genre originated from literature; epic long poems with many lines and verses. Frederick Chopin was the first to create a musical genre with this title. My Ballade is a much shorter than his long and challenging version. It’s more similar in scope to those of Brahms and Grieg.
The music of Dimitry Kabalevsky has had a big influence on me both as a student and teacher. The first work of his I learned to play was The Clown, a comical and indecisive caricature of a piece that every beginner pianist will recognize. I fondly remember learning his 24th prelude from op. 38 in the first year of my undergrad. This work barrels ahead like an industrial tempest but subsides in the closing section as the sun peaks its head out. Among my other favourite Russian composers such as Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Scriabin, Kabalevksy has influenced me greatly as a composer and it’s no surprise that soon after starting this funny waltz it seemed only fair to dedicate it to him.
I’d like to say I have a sizeable library of music books. From Bach to Bartok there is no shortage of things to play. Ironically, as a piano teacher I’ve come to realize that my shelves contain relatively little playable material for my students.
Over the past couple years composing for the piano has become a blossoming passion of mine. What better way to challenge myself as a budding composer as well as affordably grow my library of intermediate piano music than to write music directly for my students? Mode 7 is the result of this new revelation and I’m excited to discuss its inception here.
This year has been a rich one for me on my journey as a budding composer of piano music. I wrote many smaller works at the beginning of the year and finished a sonata in the summer. In the fall my free time has been occupied by writing in another genre, the nocturne. First pioneered by John Field and further popularized by Chopin, the nocturne is a piece for solo piano meant to be played at night. Like much of Chopin’s music it features a steady left hand with a right hand that often moves in an improvisatory way. The right hand is meant to mimic the silky smooth melody of a vocal work such as an aria. Nocturnes are normally peaceful but can become tempestuous and virtuosic at times such as in parts of Chopin’s Nocturne in C Minor op. 48 no. 1.
I wish I could say that one morning I woke up and decided, gee I’ve never written a sonata before, let’s go and write one… In reality, my need to brush up on my harmony theory in order to help out a student is what got the creative juices flowing.
Today I was feeling kinda down so I thought I’d pour my feelings into some composition. I wrote this little lament. It turned out to be a little study in counterpoint. Although I’m getting more confident in my harmony skills, counterpoint is another ballgame, one which I plan on addressing after I’m finished working through all the RCM books. Nonetheless, it was fun to use this opportunity to try writing another piece. It’s written in four voices and I keep repeating the 8 measure ditty layering one voice at a time.
My experiments in the realm of harmony continue. Currently I’m about half way through the RCM 10 Harmony book at we’ve just finished the passage on V9s and 13s. To me these chords immediately make me recall Chopin, as if they were his musical fingerprint. I thought I’d take another stab at composing something simple. My tendency is often to begin with simple intentions but end up with a piece 10 pages long and hard for anyone to play. This time I restricted myself to 16 measures. I thought I’d try to write another minuet, this time in the minor mode but by the time I tried it out at the keyboard I realized it was much more like a waltz. I almost achieved my first goal as it ended up being 21 measures. It turned out a tad more difficult than I wanted it to be but oh well. I’d say it’s more like grade 3 or probably 4 RCM. Still, I’m happy with the result. It reminds me a bit of Chopin combined with some Danny Elfman. What does it remind you of?
I’ve been working my way through the RCM Harmony books. Much of the information is review but some of it is also new; I never had this amount of time to study theory in depth when I was a busy undergrad many years ago. After all this theory I thought why not try and apply it? So I sketched up this little minuet and was pleased with myself for composing something that at least resembles one of the many minuets I’ve heard or played throughout my life written by those old dead white guys.
Introducing a new and haunting piece for piano. Frozen Tears has been compared to the music of Chopin mixed with Danny Elfman, the composer of soundtracks to movies including Edward Scissorhands and Corpse Bride. I can’t help but mention there is a bit of my favourite composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, in there too.
If you love exploring the fantasy realm, be it through art, music or literature, then check out this new work for solo piano. Come and be whisked away into lands of ice and snow, where horn calls echo in the valleys as battle draws near!