New from old; or the story of Tangle

I came across something interesting (to me, at least) in my composition notebooks today: my first sketches & notes for Tangle, one of the preludes in Verbs. It’s dated 5/24/08 — no wonder I was panicking about Verbs. Keith had to premiere all of Book 2, for which I had been commissioned by PMTNM & MTAC, in early November that year, and if I remember correctly, Tangle was only the second of the twelve to be written. Oops!

Tangle sketch

Anyway the top 2 staves show the basic tango pattern, in 2 versions of F# something. Or, in a kind of F# major and a kind of F# minor (there’s a tonality clarification below). Most interesting to me are the words on the right side of the page:

  • sexy
  • sly
  • two voices tangling
  • not too busy
  • spare
  • floating melody above the tango bass
  • not long

As I remember it, I knew those things about the piece almost as soon as I settled on the verb tangle and the key F# minor and the tango bass. And then I proceeded to create the music that fit my criteria.

It is very odd how often having more ”rules” makes it easier for me to compose. I’m no longer floating in a sea of charming ideas, I’m doing this one particular thing, which in this case was Tangle. I remember Tangle as coming together with ease, and I still think of it as one of my strongest pieces compositionally. Certainly the clarity of the process in creating this piece gave me the confidence to move forward in the other pieces I had been toying with for months.

The ending is the next music sketched below the 2 versions of the bass. Something forgotten, which actually explains much of the clarity of process: I knew from the beginning where exactly this music is heading, all I had to do was find its path there.

The other thing I find odd in my sketches is that so much is missing. Below the ending, I’ve started sketching an introduction. This version was rejected very almost immediately. On the facing page, there are the actual first 2 intro measures; measures 3-4, which move the music onto the C# augmented chord that acts as dominant throughout the prelude and sets up the final “wrong” notes, is not sketched anywhere.  One other motive is sketched, and then … nothing.

I remember that I was putting music into Sibelius simultaneously with sketching it on paper, but when I look at the lack of notes on the page in the sketchbook — in all the pieces, not just Tangle — it is very unsettling. As if somehow music ended up in Sibelius that I didn’t have anything to do with. I look at the few notes sketched for nearly all the pieces and wonder: how did that turn into _________ piece? I would not be able to reconstruct the preludes from the bits I wrote down on paper.

But I might make up some interesting new music from them.

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