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This is the first piece that I have ever composed for a trio. Really, it is my first go at composing for a trio. I concentrated more on expression here than the form itself. The piece is supposed to represent the transition from Winter to Spring. That is why I went more freeform with this piece(though still using fugato and there is even a canonic passage in there between the violin and the cello)


First off, the chain of harmonies that I used. I decided to go from D minor(the key of the Winter Wind phrase) to D major. But I wanted it to sound like it was gradually going towards a more major sound to represent the warming up. So I decided on this progression:

D minor -> C major -> B minor -> G major -> A major -> D major

The modulation to C major is basically a modal modulation(if there even is such a term). So it goes from Aeolian to Dorian but instead of ending on D which it sounds like it is going to, it ends on C giving a further drive forward. Going to B minor is mostly a chromatic half step modulation(I say mostly because a truly chromatic half step modulation would have landed on B major. Still 3 steps away from D major, the target key but less closely related than B minor). B minor I also use as a pivot from flats to sharps. I still use Bb though and not A# because it makes more sense to me to use Bb, especially since I go back to the flats relatively soon after the B minor phrase twice. The modulation to G major is your typical pivot chord modulation. Then you have like the modulation equivalent of a cadence to D major.

This brings me to my next point. I have 2 incomplete harmonic cycles to represent how there are several bouts of spring weather(harmonic cycle) followed by cold snaps(sudden jolt back to D minor) before spring is here for sure. The fugato that I use in the first 2 minutes or so reinforces this uncertainty about whether the warming up is long term or not. I follow this with a complete harmonic cycle to express that spring is coming.

Tone Painting

You could say the entire piece is tone painting but there are 2 places that have more tone painting going on than anywhere else. First off, the Winter Wind phrase. There are multiple layers of tone painting here. First off, the key is minor and the phrase as a whole sounds melancholy. This coupled with the fast staccato of the piano gives a very wintry feel to the phrase. The staccato itself represents the snowfall. The pizzicato strings represent the strong wind. The longer notes represent the person experiencing this winter weather.

Second is the complete harmonic cycle. After the last entry of the Winter Wind, there is a similar phrase except, the piano does not play a role here or at least one that is significant. Because of the more major sound to it, that same combination of slow cello notes and fast violin notes represents sunny weather(which becomes more frequent during Spring in my area(I live in Ohio)). After the canonic passage, the overall feel of it is "Any day now, Spring is really close, I just know it". The G major phrase sounds more anticipatory with its loud dynamics followed by a diminuendo into the next phrase. That phrase starts off pianissimo and then gradually goes to forte.

A melodic motif starts the ending phrase. That BACB motif, it represents the song-like birdcall of the American Robin, a bird that I start hearing a few days after the spring equinox. Then there are 2 instruments playing and then all of a sudden, there is just 1 line again. In this case, it is representing the well known "Jeer" call of the Blue Jay by staying on 1 note. Then, again 2 instruments and then all of a sudden, all 3 instruments are playing birdcalls starting with the violin playing the Cardinal birdcall, then the cello joins in with the Robin birdcall, and then the piano joins in with the Blue Jay birdcall and then it leads to another short, non-birdcall melody. Then all 3 birdcalls at once, and then the final ending melody which has the ending whole notes with a fermata and at a fortissimo dynamic to conclude the piece.

So, here is the link to the piece on Musescore:

I would like some feedback on this. How well did I get across the feelings of Winter and Spring? How well did I incorporate those birdcall motifs? Which one do you think I incorporated better than the others if you had to chose? The Robin motif because it is used more and is what starts the Spring is Here phrase?
This is a very impressive piece of music, and I enjoyed listening to it. However I don't feel qualified to comment on the more detailed aspects as it's not a style I'm into or knowledgeable about, and I find the robotic-sounding rendition a little distracting (though I do understand of course that realism is not a factor here and it's meant to be performed by actual players).

The turbulent feeling of winter that's fighting a losing battle against spring is very well conveyed. Maybe someone else with a stronger grasp of sheet music and classical can chime in, Samulis perhaps?
Nice work!

I think the main thing I'd like to see more of is a more 'singable' melody.

Most melodic figures in this piece careen back and forth between fast and slow, sometimes long passages of nothing but quarter notes with little sixteenth note or eighth note patterns or runs. I think perhaps you are a piano player or write using mouse entry where it is easy to fall into the pattern of just using the same note length for all of a rhythmic division than to switch to another note value. Similarly, while sticking to chord tones for most of a measure is a good and easy way to write melodies, introducing non-chord tones (here's a handy cheat sheet: can help turn a simple 'cantus firmus'-like melody into something more interesting.

Similarly, counterpoint doesn't always mean to wait for one part to end their bit before allowing another part to play something. Sometimes doubling a part up/down a third or sixth can create some beautiful but simple harmony. Part of good counterpoint is learning to make the piece not sound robotic, but flowing, as if the parts are having a conversation... and in a natural conversation, people do talk over each other, 'jump in' all the sudden, etc. Another thing which can contribute to this is a clear harmonic progression backed by dynamic motion. Having clear cadential points through the piece and cadential movement, as the voices build tension going into the dominant chord and release upon reaching the tonic (or not!), both builds listener interest and provides a piece with a natural movement.

I guess my point is, people don't talk in a monotone- we don't speak rhythms in simple 'ta-ta-ta-ta', but with direction. When I say "I am going to the store", every word in that sentence is leading towards 'store'. Maybe start with the most basic  building block of music: rhythm. Take a sentence, and notate the rhythm. For example, 'I am going to the store' sounds something like this:

The 'tenuto' symbol represents an emphasized bit of text (like in poetry), while the resolution (or weak beat) is shown by the u-shaped symbol. The crescendo and diminuendo markings show approximately how someone would phrase this sentence.

With that info in mind, we can begin giving it a harmonic context:

Poof! We have a melody, and adding harmony or chords is not difficult.

Form suggests, for example, we can now take this figure and play it a second time, perhaps with a different cadential figure (e.g. re-ti-do instead of fa-fa-mi, as shown). After that (following the typical 'short-short-long' idea), we can introduce a new melody, thus completing our 'A section'.

From there, we have a subject we can play with and tweak... what if we play it in retrograde or invert it? Create a cannon with it? Make a diminution or variation? All possibilities.  Big Grin

My point is, it's not very hard to come up with a good, 'singable' (and most importantly of all... memorable!) theme, nor is there really any reasonable excuse not to. Furthermore, many composers will act like their first priority is to express themselves, but every single successful composer in history writes parts that are memorable and enjoyable for the musicians to play. Consider your performers- do they want to play simple melodies of lots of quarter notes interrupted by a few rapid passages? What is the purpose of what you write? Is what you write going to make the musicians happy or bored or overwhelmed? After all, there is a big difference between a piece which is 'complex' and a piece which is 'challenging'. 

In all cases, the theory plays second chair to the larger form and function- a computer can write theoretically perfect counterpoint and a probability tree can make up reasonable chord progressions. What the composer adds boils down to taking those basic elements of chords and scales and making something beautiful (or terrifying) out of them, with the most important function being creating a melody.

With that in mind, also consider how you transition between sections. Right now it sort of stops and starts, or suddenly jumps into a new key area. The circle of fifths is your friend- remember the ii-V-I or IV-V-I progression and it can lead you anywhere via secondary dominants. Pivot chords, shared chords between multiple key areas, can also be useful for creating smooth transitions.

This little site is one of my favorite resources for 'big picture' theory, including modulation and harmonic structure. It's a little dense due to being translated quite literally from French into English, but is well worth the slog-