Music Composition

I thought I’d do something a little different this time, and post a bit of music I’ve been working on. It’s still pretty rough around the edges and only about half done, but you can get an idea of what it currently sounds like from this mp3 file. The working title is Beowulf and Grendel, and it’s intended to be a programmatic piece for a typical symphonic band based on the Anglo-Saxon tale of Beowulf. The recording is from an exported wave file directly from the 2009 version of Finale. It makes use of the included Garritan sound files as a sort of ROMpler and some “human” playing tendencies in the classical style to eliminate most of the synthetic sound you typically get from a computerized performance. Unfortunately, there are a few digital artifacts that seem to have materialized during the mp3 down-conversion. The end effect is something like a snare drum vibrating passively in response to the symphonic band. See if you can hear it!

Example of a "Z-cell" as identified in Béla Bartók's music by Leo Treitler in 'Harmonic Procedure in the Fourth Quartet of Béla Bartók'
Example of a "Z-cell" as identified in Bartok's music by Leo Treitler who expanded on the X-cell and Y-cell identified by George Perle

The beginning section makes heavy use of a Bartókian Z-cell. This musical fragment is essentially double tritones separated by a minor second, or alternatively, you can think of it as two semi-tones separated by a perfect fourth. Either way, it results in a somewhat unusual sound that captures the feeling of a sinister character like Grendel.

After the opening statement and some brief expansion of the Grendel motif, the piece moves into a short lament played by the oboe. The lament modulates from the minor mode to major in anticipation of the arrival of Beowulf. A short fugue section marks Beowulf’s arrival and preparation for battle with the monstrous Grendel.

Stay tuned for the clash of these two iconic figures and the thrilling conclusion of their battle. While we haven’t heard the last of the Grendel theme, I hope I’m not giving anything away by foreshadowing that the ultimate winner will be Beowulf. Since the music is loosely based on the oldest extant piece of Anglo-Saxon writing, you’ve really no excuse if you haven’t read it yet!

Let me know what you think!

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