- You may jump down a few paragraphs if you’re interested in hearing performances. I fear I’ve gone the route of a recipe website; all elaboration at the beginning while you’re hungry and impatient and want to know how to make a pizza dough without eggs. I write too much for my own good…
Getting your music performed publicly as a composer is difficult. They say that in the world of music today, getting yourself ‘out there’ is 20% composing, 80% advertising. In college, I was a shy, awkward fellow who didn’t want to bother people—Really, I remember thinking, who wants to be bothered with learning some Baroque music which is of lesser quality than Bach or Telemann? One good thing about the Internet is that now anybody can be subject to what you write, and if they want sheet music, then you can send it to them!
Granted, I’d only been writing music seriously for three or four years by the time my senior recital in college came around. On that evening in March, I was nervous, tired, and to be very honest, massively under-prepared. I had had few performing opportunities in college aside from once-a-semester requirements to play the harpsichord. Being mentally drained and unready, on top of being a nervous wreck and having a learning disability isn’t the best group of ingredients for a music performance major. Hence why I majored in composition. Also, having performance anxiety on top of general anxiety is not fun.
That being said, I like performing! I really do. I’ve become better at managing my nerves and getting into the head-space of playing music in public (ten years of experience with playing in churches for various services helps too!) but it’s taken a long, long time. Comparing the playing from my most recent recital to that of my senior recital three years earlier is definitely a learning experience for me!
If you’re a performing composer such as myself, it might be a better choice to promote your own music whenever you can in public. Don’t be a walking ad–“Oh, I sell my music here, here, and here, and also here is my Soundcloud and Facebook and Youtube page!” Yes, all those things are good to have and advertise–online.
However I guarantee that if you’re in high school, college, or grad school (not that I’ve been there) there’s a huge possibility that someone or multiples someones on campus will take an interest in what you’ve written. Or they’ll be forced to take an interest because they need a grade–whichever comes first. In my case, those who played my music offered out of the kindness of their hearts.
So in my complete senior recital there are a few pieces which I’m proud of that I would like to highlight. While I don’t have much experience with writing for instruments that are not keyboard, I think it’s an accomplishment to write for oboe, bassoon, and saxophones. Beginning around 32:00, the overture for solo oboe in C minor was written in 2017, just as a stand-alone piece of music. I may at some point expand this music, but I don’t know of much Baroque music for solo oboe which I could look at as a model. Telemann, I know, wrote many pieces for flute or recorder—out of all the woodwinds, these two seem most favorable amid composers. Is this piece really an overture though? Its form is akin to a French overture, but not as dotted or elegant or French. It’s also impossible or quite difficult to write a fugue (and play one) on a solo-voice instrument (the violin and cello don’t count…if you’re Bach).
Beginning around 37:40, the Suite for Solo Bassoon in G Minor is heard next. A typical suite–an exercise in technique or a collection of dances for any instrument, or any combination of instruments—can consist of anything from three to seven to any other number of movements. They can be programmatic or absolute–although I’m of the opinion that all Baroque music is programmatic; if it makes you feel or think something, then there we go.
In this three-movement suite, I had no particular model other than for the opening movement, the allemande from Bach’s partita for flute, BWV 1013, was often in my mind. Perhaps you may hear the similarities between Bach and myself, but Bach is eons better! My own suite was written between 2015 and 2016, originally for flute but I decided it worked much better in the solemn, sonorous lower octave which the bassoon can communicate in. Perhaps one day it could be performed on the Baroque cello, or a viola da gamba?
The opening allemande is slow and contemplative, with a constant run of sixteenth notes, punctuated by necessary pauses (both for the sake of the music and the performer). One recurring theme is heard, and we don’t wander through too many keys. The next movement, a bittersweet adagio (or perhaps largo may be a better tempo setting?) gives us a new key, B flat major. The lyrical nature of this movement has, I think, more of a calling to Vivaldi rather than Bach. Bach isn’t exactly lyrical in his melodic construction–more like methodical. Give a listen for yourself, at 4:27 here. The gigue is fast, neither like Bach or Vivaldi, but I feel something that is completely my own. I enjoy the bassoon very much, and may write for it more in the future!
The final piece I’d like to make notice of is the duet for two saxophones, beginning at 1:00:10. This piece was actually adapted from an earlier piece of music, Water Dances in F Minor, a duet for bassoon and flute. Of course, only the first movement from that suite was adapted, and changed so much that it is unrecognizable.
I like the tone of the saxophone a lot! It reminds me sometimes of a Baroque oboe. And this begs the question–can you write Baroque music for non-Baroque instruments? Of course! In the end, it all comes down to the notes you write and how it’s played. Besides, Bach on the saxophone sounds very pretty and so is the music of Telemann.
Back to my original question, though–does playing or writing Baroque music for non-Baroque instruments still count as Baroque? Jazz can be played on a harpsichord, and a harpsichord has been used on many occasions for newer music. If you recite Shakespeare in the American South with a Southern Accent, the words are still those of Shakespeare. Moreover, if you write in the dialect of Shakespeare and present it in whatever modern manner you like, then your language is still Renaissance English. An authentic Italian restaurant in the middle of Maine is still authentic Italian, even if they chef isn’t from Milan or Venice. The ingredients, the manner of cooking the recipe–that is what counts.