"There are no two points so distant from one another that they cannot be connected by a single straight line -- and an infinite number of curves."

Composer Lawrence Dillon has produced an extensive body of work, from brief solo pieces to a full-length opera. Three disks of his music are due out in 2010 on the Bridge, Albany and Naxos labels. In the past year, he has had commissions from the Emerson String Quartet, the Cassatt String Quartet, the Mansfield Symphony, the Boise Philharmonic, the Salt Lake City Symphony, the Ravinia Festival, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the University of Utah and the Idyllwild Symphony Orchestra.

Although he lost 50% of his hearing in a childhood illness, Dillon began composing as soon as he started piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1985, he became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School, and was shortly thereafter appointed to the Juilliard faculty. Dillon is now Composer in Residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he has served as Music Director of the Contemporary Ensemble, Assistant Dean of Performance, and Interim Dean of the School of Music. He was the Featured American Composer in the February 2006 issue of Chamber Music magazine.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The following is the third part of a journal I am keeping on the composition of my second symphony. Click here for part one and here for part two.

How should a symphony begin? Any way it wants. This symphony wants to begin quietly. Definitely no bombast. At all costs, avoid the gradual crescendo from niente to fortissimo, which has become a new music cliché.

I heard a very straightforward tune in a moderate tempo for the opening:

I like the pentatonic simplicity of this melody -- it allows for polar opposites in presentation: it can be played with a childlike naiveté, harmonized in G Major, eg:

Or it can be the leading voice in a series of denser, symmetrical harmonies:

Which, when reversed, can take the listener in surprising directions:

It's an old but potent idea: the simpler the material, the more potential for development. Development, and even potential for development, don't guarantee great music, but they are nice to have at your disposal, just in case.

I initially heard this melody played quietly by the piccolo, accompanied by glassy string harmonics. But then I realized it would be very attractive, more elusive, played by the glockenspiel, with an occasional piccolo doubling. And that was the first music I wrote down for my symphony.

But as I said in my last post on this piece, the first music I write down is often discarded somewhere along the way. This melody was discarded after about 24 hours.

Resulting in a somewhat annoyed composer:

I may use this melody at some point in the piece. I will certainly use it somewhere eventually, but I lost interest in having it begin this symphony. Instead, I came up with the following progression of harmonies:

Why this progression, and what I’m doing with it, I’ll get to in a later post. For now, though, this is a good lesson in compositional discipline -- throw out more than you keep.