TITLE>Music Performance 361, Fall 2005: Assignment three

Music Performance 361, Fall 2005: Introduction to Composition
Assignment 3: due Monday, October 10, 2005

Compositional challenge: write a short work for oboe solo (approximately one page in length) which presents melodic material establishing a particular mode, and then enacts a gradual transition into a different mode. You may either choose to move towards new melodic material for the second mode, or you may try to reimagine your initial material as it might be reshaped by the new mode.

The scales on which your two modes will be based are given: the first mode should use some or all of the pitches from an octatonic scale (C, C#, D#, E, F#, G, A, A#), and the second mode some or all of the pitches from the collection (D, D#, G#, A, B). Remember, though, that a mode is more than just a scale or set of pitches; your first step in making this piece should be to plan how you will characterize these pitches as your own unique mode. Which pitches characteristically begin a melodic gesture? Which one provides the most satisfying conclusion to a line? What are some typical patterns of motion in between? Are there other pitches which are "centers of gravity" even if they don't begin or end phrases? Are there pitches which are only used to move between other, more prominent pitches? Are there characteristic rhythmic elements that typify these modes? I'd appreciate it if you'd include a short paragraph or sketch with your assignment that describes your choices for each of the two modes you define.

Once you've got your modes firmly established, then you need to consider how to move gradually between them. The ideal here is a transition that is almost imperceptible - a subtle shift rather than a bright contrast. For instance, you might want to slowly reduce the number of pitches you're using from the first mode until you only have the pitches which are common to both collections; then you can gradually add pitches which belong only to the second mode. Alternately, you might add one pitch from the second mode, then subtract one pitch which belongs to the first, and cycle between additions and subtractions until you are entirely in the second mode. No matter how you decide to do it, do your best to be patient - the more slow and subtle your changes, and the more time in between them, the more gradual your transition will be. Your modal formulas can help here - literal repetitions, varied repetitions, and repetitions of small elements or specific parameters can help you enact the change of mode slowly.

It may help you to compose the sections of this piece out of order - write the beginning and the end, each in its own mode, and only then figure out the transition from one to the other. It's often easier to compose this kind of very gradual transition when you know precisely what you are aiming towards!

Some basic information about the oboe:

- the oboe's range extends from the B-flat below middle C to the fifth-space A above the staff
the bottom few notes of the register (from B-flat to D) are very difficult to play quietly; use mezzo-forte and louder here
- oboes are perhaps best known for their smooth legato, but can also be quite agile, with precise staccatos and rapid leaps
if you want to get ahead in the syllabus, Berio's Sequenza VII is an amazing example of virtuosic oboe writing
- oboes require very little air to play
however, oboists still need opportunities to breathe - usually to exchange stale air for fresh
some oboists have developed the "circular breathing" technique that allows wind players to play continuously
- contemporary techniques for the oboe include:
microtonal fingerings (Veale and Mahnkopf have published an eighth-tone fingering chart covering almost the entire range)
multiphonics (special fingerings can produce selected chords; players can also hum or sing while playing a tone)
slap-tongue (a special articulation effect)
double-, triple-, and flutter-tonguing
short glisssandi created by "lipping" pitches down (mostly in the high register; but a semi-tone is still usually the longest downwards glissando)

Enjoy and good luck! Don't hesitate to ask with any questions.