…All creatures great and small. So begins a hymn, sung to the tune Royal Oak, which I first set for piano in 2001 and, more recently, for organ. After getting up real early (see ATBaB pt I), checking out some Point-of-Sale software we’re thinking of installing in Marianne’s yarn store, I headed off to the church where I’ll be guest organist for a couple of weeks.
In addition to playing a voluntary by William Walond (a contemporary of G. F. Handel in London), I decided to play one of my organ variations on All Things… but found it difficult to pull one variation out of what is a pretty robust set of variations. I checked out my piano variation and really liked it (well, duh! I did write it.). To make it more challenging (for probably both performer and listener–but see my closing comment) I wrote it in 3/4, while the original (see the excerpt above) is in 4/4. Here’s how the first statement of the melody looks in 3/4:
Notice that the left hand gives a pretty pronounced downbeat, while the right hand floats above it all. When I play, I try to allow each hand to be metrically independent of the other. It’s a little unsettling, but also a little surreal. Perhaps a reminder of how difficult it is to obtain beauty…
You may see hints of the melody in the tenor portion of the left hand, here doubling (the first two measures) and then following (the descending scale in the left hand in measure 4 imitating the descending scale in the right in measures 2 and 3). When the melody repeats, it comes in on beat 1, increasing the subtle canon…or so I hope!
The b or verse section handles the tension between 4 and 3 differently. In the original, the melody does this:This melody is a miniature masterpiece. As the verse continues, the melody rises to meet the beginning refrain. It’s a neat way to make the refrain in this simple two-part form seam both fresh and inevitable.
I didn’t want to do the same 3-against-4 procedure of the first part of my setting, so I fit the melody into its tighter quarters by eliminating repeated notes and shortening long notes:I stressed the lowness of the melody by moving it into the bass clef, and almost turned it into a sequential passage. Apart from just plain liking the tune, I have found that giving myself a musical challenge, like fitting 4 beats into 3, is compositionally stimulating–particularly since I want the result to be comfortable to the listener’s ear. For all of my academic focus (rather ingrained after 25 years as a university music professor), this is no music for music’s sake. I want to freshen people’s ears while they hear something they know, even if they don’t recognize it right away.