Quartweet: A challenge.
Express a musical thought.
One-forty notes, max.
I give you my first:
It’s “A Bittersweet Farewell.”
I hope you like it.
After much deliberation, review, and musical sudoku, I give you my first quartweet, A Bittersweet Farewell, clocking in at just 86 notes.
The score can be seen (and heard) at the Musescore website by clicking here.
Want to write your own quartweet? Let me outline some of the steps I went through.
- Create a complete musical thought.
Ok, that sounds like the hard part, but it might not be as hard as you think. If you just start humming to yourself, not sticking to a specific tune, you can probably generate one. And if you do it long enough (walking around at night for hours with a sleepless infant for example) your ideas will become more elaborate, and you can probably develop variations on your theme as well.
Side note 1: for some reason, at 3AM everything used to start to sound like a folk tune that I imagine my great-grandmother singing.
Side note 2: you cannot get an infant to sleep using a 12-note tone row. Just sayin’.
2. Figure out how a string quartet works.
I do not play a string instrument. I originally wrote down my quartweet in piano notation (one treble clef, one bass clef). The range of each string instrument is different, and you have to make sure you keep your notes in a reasonable range, just as you would for a singer.
3. Write the harmony.
Here’s where the musical sudoku comes in. A melody left by itself can get lonely. If all the instruments play the same note…well, you get the equivalent of plainchant in voices. So you need harmony, allied tone clusters that help to establish the mood.
The difficulty lies in the fact that certain patterns of note movement or clustering sound better than others. Some are to be avoided because they don’t work as well, or don’t allow each instrument to shine. Some just plain don’t sound good. I am doing my best to avoid the use of the word “rules” here. It’s not that you can’t do some things, it’s just that there are preferable options. But changing one note, like changing a box in a sudoku puzzle, can have rippling effects. Get out your erasers.
Side note 3: I hate sudoku.
4. Transcribe the “final” version for a string quartet.
Each instrument gets its own staff. The violins use the treble clef. Ok. The cello uses the bass clef. Ok. The viola players are already sighing. They know what comes next is the rant about using the alto clef, which is less common. The middle line for the treble clef is B. The middle line for the bass clef is D. The middle line for the alto clef is C.
No worries, violists–I’m a translator, I got this.
Side note 4: actually my rant is typically about asking why the bass clef and treble clef lines have to be different. Sure, I understand the logic of it, but couldn’t somebody have done a little inter-clef hand-waving in ancient times and made them both the same? Especially when, on a keyboard, you have to play both at the same time?
Finally! written, harmonized, transcribed. Ta-da!
It’s not Mozart. But then Mozart wasn’t born speaking in paragraphs either (one presumes). We start with “mama” then “I’m hungry” then “I’d like a sandwich please” then, eventually, Proust (maybe). I’d like to think I’m at the “water is wet, fire is hot” obvious and simple stage. Eventually I’ll get beyond there (maybe). Just have to keep trying and reaching for the madeleines.
There will be at least one more quartweet coming your way, but it’s been detained in step 3. Soon as I get rid of those pesky parallel fifths and other infractions of the…guidelines, I’ll send it your way.
Music Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported [CC BY-ND 3.0] Chris Gallant 2016.