The Process of Composing a Symphony

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Transcript of The Process of Composing a Symphony

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    M U S I C C O M P O S I T I O N M A D E S I M P L E


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    The Process of Composing a Symphony October 31, 2011 by Jon Brantingham — 17 Comments

    The Emotional Process of Composing Music

    Do you have that desire to compose something great for the

    world? Did you experience something that you cannot explain in

    words? Mu sic is an incre dible thing, that can express the

    “inexpressible,” but how does that happen? How do you get from emotion to music? What is your process of composing?

    It All Begins With Experience

    “Only when I experience something do I compose, and only when com posing

    do I experience anything.” Gustav Mahler

    I am a rm believer that wisdom only comes with experience. There are some things that

    cannot be learned from a book, they have to happen to you. One of these things is

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    emotion. Emotion cannot be described to the point of experience, it must be felt.

    But music offers something different. It is one of the few things that can convey emotion.

    When you hear Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, 2nd Movement, you feel his emotions.

    My Motivation to Write I, like many others, dream of writing a Symphony. It was something I attempted in my

    teenage years, but I failed. I never nished. Maybe because I didn’t quite get the form, or I

    just didn’t have the patience to see it through. But more than likely, I didn’t have the experience. Not necessarily in writing music, although that plays a part, but denately I

    didn’t have the Life Experience.

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    Life Happens But something funny has happened to me over the last 10 years. I grew up. Life

    happened. I graduated, joined the army, went to war, got married, became a Dad, went

    through ups and downs, lost some family and friends. I have lived.

    So this is where I believe my desire to compose a symphony comes from. It is more a

    desire to express my life through music. So how is this done?

    The Process of Composing a Symphony – Planning As with most things, I attempt to be methodical about everything I do. My process for

    composing a Symphony may seem a little dry, but I think it will prove to be very helpful. I

    wish I could say that I envisioned the entire Symphony in a ash of genius, and am just

    writing down that revelation. But it’s not true. So I am planning it out, each step, in detail.

    This will give me a plan – a map.

    The process of composing in writing (like writing a book or essay) is very similar. You

    create an outline and you ll it in.

    The funny thing about plans, they don’t always go to plan. But as we say in the army:

    “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Mean Old Army Guy

    The Traditional Symphony as a Roadmap

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    We have to start somewhere, so let’s take a look at the Symphony overall. I realize this is

    not every Symphony. I am not going to worry too much about what a “Real Symphony” is,

    or if it should be three, four, or ve movements. I am just taking a General Symphony

    Outline and building from there.

    A symphony traditionally has four movements

    1. First Movement – Tends to be in Sonata form (also commonly called Sonata-Allegro

    form, to differentiate it from the Sonata Cycle). I will stick with this, as the Sonata

    form gives you a great vehicle for development. An excellent example of this is

    Beethoven’s 5th, 1stMovement.

    2. Second Movement – Tends to be something slower, and can be in many different forms. Sometimes this is swapped with the third movement, which we’ll talk about


    3. Third Movement – Tends to be a Minuet and Trio or a Scherzo. We’ll talk about

    these forms more in depth later on down the road.

    4. Fourth Movement – Once again, this can be in all shapes and sizes, but it usually has

    a much more “nale” type of feel to it. I am thinking of doing a rondo for the last

    movement, but I haven’t made up my mind.

    For my purposes, I am going to swap the 2nd and 3rd Movements. I’ll explain in later


    My Motivation So with the overall view of the symphony down, I will approach it from an emotional

    direction rst. I want to make sure the symphony conveys an emotional journey. What

    better to do that then to use the last few years of my life to map it out. These are the “life

    experiences” I am going with.

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    First Movement – Going to Iraq

    Second Movement – 15 Months in Combat

    Third Movement – Meeting My Wife

    Fourth Movement – Coming Home

    With those four topics, I have about a million different emotions to convey, so I will have

    to be selective, but this is a good starting point.

    First Movement – Sonata Form Going to Iraq. I won’t get into the details too much, at least not here, but in a period of a

    few weeks, I went through an emotional roller coaster:

    I prepped for going, a good friend got shot down in Iraq

    I was in a car accident, my car was totalled

    I said goodbye to my family (for all I knew was the last time)

    I partied in Scotland (thank goodness for “crew rest,” the airplane crew had to take

    the night off) I stepped off a plane in Kuwait, into what felt like a hairdryer all over my body

    “Crossing the Berm” into Iraq

    It was a crazy time.

    So with this in mind, I have tried to capture the emotions I felt in a logical way, that will

    help me compose the Symphony. This is what I came up with. It’s basically an outline.

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    This is a picture of my troop, just before taking off for Iraq. What a crazy time.

    Outlining the Symphony To start, I listed the movement, wrote my inspiration, and then wrote down all the


    Next I mapped those emotions along a shell for a sonata form. The sonata form can go

    through various keys, but it is usually rmly rooted in tonic for the exposition and

    dominant for the development. I’ll go over the sonata form in a later post in much more

    detail, like I have with the small themes. Please forgive me for not writing complete

    sentences in the outline, it was more stream of through type stuff.

    1. First Movement:

    1. Inspiration: Going to Iraq

    2. Emotions: Uncertainty, Pain, Excitement, Anticipation, Vulnerable, Sadness, Missing my family, Feeling pain in my heart for the chance that my family will

    have to miss me. Uncertainty. Relief after rst ight was over. Feeling of


    3. Form : Sonata-Allegro

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    1. Introduction: In America, week before leaving, car crash, friend gets shot

    down. Packing up. Arrival to Kuwait, funny, odd, camels, sand storm, late

    nights, lots of work, preparation.

    1. Key – Dominant (this is the typical key for introductions in classical

    form). 2. Slow, ominous in America, Odd in Kuwait

    2. Exposition

    1. Key – Tonic, maybe minor for uncertainty

    2. Main Theme

    1. Depart for Iraq

    2. Flying around Bagdad, Tigris, Euphrates, Palm tree groves,

    landing, safe. 3. Subordinate Theme : Defeat, death of more friends, moving to


    3. Development : Finding my place in Mosul, new job. Direction coming.

    1. Key – Dominant

    2. Re-transition – Focus on Dominant 7

    4. Recapi