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A Crossover Episode

2018 June 282 min read

Before Woodside Whimsy, I hadn't published a solo piano piece in three years. During those years I branched out musically in many ways, vastly improving my skills in the process. Nevertheless, there's one piece from before my three-year hiatus that still holds up, even as I go back to revise it four years later.

I wrote Four Episodes for String Quartet in the summer of 2013, at a rather awkward stage in my compositional career. At the time, my most recent classical pieces all had good thematic material, but they were lacking in motivic development, haphazard in structure, and hit-or-miss in overall quality. I was at the point where I knew what I wanted, but I didn't quite have the technical skill or work ethic to pull it off.

It was during the compositional process of my string quartet, and the piano version soon afterwards, that I finally began coming into my own.

Looking back at the piano versions of Pilot and Sequel now, they were small steps. Particularly, the use of straight pauses as the de facto transitions between sections was a bit of a crutch. However, I find these movements to be structurally coherent in a way that none of my music had been before. Perhaps not so coincidentally, it was the first time that I was entirely self-motivated to write a piece from beginning to end. I found very little to revise in those first two movements, and nothing that needed changing in terms of overall structure.

The weak point was Finale, though. In the string quartet, this was movement 4, following a long, slow third movement titled "Tertium Quid", and it was a rushed amalgamation of the few ideas I had left, that were not exhausted in the first three movements. In the piano version, this movement became an ersatz combination of movements 3 and 4 from the string quartet, which left me similarly unsatisfied. Going back to it in 2018, I decided to scrap the entire movement, and replace it with something better.

I have many more unused musical ideas at my disposal now than I did in 2014, that's for sure. Rather than drawing on those, though, I decided instead to revisit another, even older piece of mine: the third movement of my 2009 piano sonatina. This was my first and only classical piece in 7/8, a time signature that I've since explored in more depth in improvisation. For the new third Episode, I drew almost all of my material from that 2009 piece and my 2017 Canada Day Improv, which was almost entirely in 7/8 and served as a perfect natural extension to the movement.

I did keep one thing from the old Finale - the credits. I still really like the idea of revisiting all the motifs from previous movements in succession, and giving the audience a little memory game to play while they listen. Once again - it still holds up.

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