OUMS Composition Competition Winners

Hilary Term 2018

Lament by Harry Baker

Lament is a short orchestral work that, in part, takes inspiration from Purcell’s aria, Dido’s Lament. Yearning, descending semitone figures are scattered throughout the work, drawing parallels with the falling chromatic ‘lament’ bass line in Purcell’s work, whilst the seeming loss of hope in the fade from the climax is akin to Dido’s final fatal vocal descent. However, Lament does not follow a specific programmatic vein, but exists more as a collective intimate yearning. Fleeting passages of sentimentality and distant nostalgia punctuate a mostly introverted melancholy. Solo writing pervades the work: a violin solo appears in the opening bars, and a cello solo introduces the main theme shortly afterwards. In contrast, a sense of expressive unity is generated by clear sectional moments in the strings, the treble woodwinds, and the piano and celesta. For this reason, as a whole the piece possesses a chamber-like quality, a characteristic which is left behind at the despairing climax of the work, where the full expressive range of the orchestra is used.

Hilary Term 2017

Divergence by Aaron King

‘Divergence’ combines a number of different approaches to musical composition, and explores the way in which these can evoke different moods and contribute to a sense of musical drama. This occurs in two key ways. Firstly, the piece is divided into five sections, each of which uses a different compositional method leading to a different musical mood; secondly, there is a longer term thread within which two further, more fundamental ways in which the music is constructed are used: initially they are used concurrently, but they gradually gain independence as the piece progresses. It is from the latter process that the title of this piece is derived, and perhaps it could be said that the theme of divergence is particularly relevant in today’s political climate.

The different moods which I sought to evoke led to very different ways of constructing the music. The opening section employs the verticalization of a tone row to create a dark and foreboding timbre, which moves into a section in which the harmonies used are relatively tonal, but are derived from a melody which is much less tonal and quite angular to create a fanfare-like gesture. A slightly more functional use of harmony is used in the next, more romantic, section, followed by a section in which, to create a mysterious affect, the harmonies are led predominantly by chromatic voice leading.

With regards to the second feature (and in order to better explain the significance of the final section): the very first inspiration behind the piece was the idea of schenkerian analysis – the practice of stripping back elaborations in a piece of music to uncover the its fundamental structure. This is a practice devised for analysis of tonal music, rather than composition of non-tonal music, but here, this paradigm is turned around. A schenkerian analysis of this piece might reveal that the fundamental structure is a sequence of tone rows, all of which are transpositions of the same tone row; moreover, the elaborations on it are a conscious process. However, there are moments in the piece which move away from this paradigm and use motifs as building blocks in a more usual way. As the piece progresses, the elaborations are gradually stripped away, and the tone row which was initially concealed is gradually used more and more as a motif, with fragments of the tone row(s) gradually becoming more apparent. The apotheosis of this is the final section of the piece, which takes the form of a fugue. After a build up on the opening material, a fugal subjects enters in the horns and violins. This fugal subject is the tone row on which the overarching structure of the piece is based, and although this is the first place where it is heard plainly, the allusions to it in previous sections means that if may already sound familiar. However, the episodes between this subject develop motifs more freely: the motivic content of the piece and the tone row have gained musical independence and, hence, have diverged.

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