Learning Log

Project 1: Listening to Orchestration

Exercise 1: Getting a sense of the possibilities

The pieces I’ve listened to for this exercise can be found in my Listening Log to the corresponding part of the course.

Research Point 1a: Pictures at an exhibition

For this Research Point I was asked to listen to and compare an original version of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, written for the piano and Maurice Ravel’s orchestrated version. For the original version I made the following notes in my Listening Log:

The piece describes different pictures, seen at an exhibition. At the beginning one can hear the promenade, which can be heard in between the different pictures in alterated versions.

The first picture is called “Gnomus”. The harmonies from the piano seem to describe different movements of the gnome; fidgeting, interrupted, jumping or sneaking for example. A continuous thrill in the backgound underlines the threatening atmosphere.The second picture ” vecchio castello” introduces a slow melody with a melancholic character. The continuous bass line reminds of a piece from the middle – ages. The following “Tuleries” has a lighter character again. The following piece “Bydlo” has a heavy character with an octaved based accompanying a variation of a minor melody, mostly played in forte. The next piece “ballet of unhatched chicks”, involves several trills, which would represent the movements of small chickens very well.

“Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle” represents two Jews, one of which is rich, whilst the other one lives in poverty. The two are represented by different themes. Samuel, the rich one, has a wide and heavy theme whilst Schmuyle’s theme has a more whining sound. “Limoges”, represents the hectic movement on a market with people running from one place to another. This time, the promenade can’t be heard during the transition to the next part “catacombs”, which involves slow, long and dark chords.

The following part “The Hut on Hen’s Legs” represents the house of a which from Russian legends. Mussorgsky worked with rapidly played dissonant chords and sudden changes in dynamics to create an uncomfotable sounding character. The last part “The Bogatyr Gates” represents a picture of a city gate. A melody is accompanied by heavy octaved bass notes.

Overall it was interesting to have so many different textures of piano music put next to one another, which also shows how many different colours can be produced by just one instrument. I personally felt, that Mussorgsky managed it really well to desctibe the different pictures, as well as the short “brakes” in form of the promenade whilst the audience moves from one picture to the next. 1

Even though the orchestrated version seems partially more colourful and expressional, I didn’t always get the same impression I got whilst listening to the piano version. One of the best examples would be the promenade; Ravel often used brass instruments for these parts, which gave the music a more heroic sounding character instead of a slow transition from one picture to the next.

Having had a closer look at the first picture “Gnomus” I noticed the following:

In my personal opinion Ravel chose a very appropriate orchestration. He started the first theme with woodwinds and low strings, which represent the dark nature of the gnome very well. I nevertheless thought, that he put slightly too much emphasism in the following octavated part, which appears several times throughout the piece.

I was positively surprised by the use of the xylophone in the during the second theme. It was interesting to see that this small staccato sound can add a playful character to the otherwise dark mood, as well as representing a certain deceitfulness. Towards the end of the phrase, Ravel chose a harp to lead the melody, which created a more unusual soft character.

The bass drum in the third part gave an impression of heavy steps being made, whilst the piano version has a lighter approach towards the same bass notes.


Project 1.2. Introduction to string instruments

Research Point 1B: Orchestral String Instruments


2 Strings (2002 – 2020). Vienna Symphonic Library. Available at: STRINGS – Vienna Symphonic Library (vsl.co.at) [Accessed: 03.12.2020]

Exercise 2: Aurora

(The following paragraphs can also be found in my Listening Log under the corresponding part of the course)

  • Composer: Iannis Xenakis
  • Year of composition: 1971
  • Instruments:  4 first violins, 3 second violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and 1 double bass
  • Performed by: New Philharmonica Orchestra
  • Listened to: 03.12.2020

Even though almost the entire piece was a collection of a few a tonal combination of sounds, it was interesting to see how many different sounds the string instruments were able to produce. It was difficult to follow any structure. The created sounds varied from pizzicato parts, that sounded like rain to glissandos, sounding like high pitched sirens. Overall, I personally can’t say that I hugely enjoyed it, but it was certainly interesting to see how many more options one has writing for a string instrument, especially when it comes to techniques.

Within the score there were a few rather unusual playing techniques:

Apart from the first example, a glissandi, I haven’t seen any of these techniques before. They all had an interesting effect, which sometimes even ended up producing a sound, which seems very unusual for a string instrument.

It my study folder it is notes, that example 6 in the picture above is a technique, which allows the bow to bounce on the string. Furthermore, according to Appendix 1 in my study folder the square note (example 5) is called an “artificial harmonic”. They are notated with the stopped pitch as well as the harmonic note which are meant to be touched lightly.

Exercise 3: Transcription for Solo Strings

This exercise involved the arrangement of a song for solo voice for a solo string – instrument. Before starting to choose songs for this exercise, I listened to some of the different techniques for strings within the recommended pieces in “Appendix 1: Extended Techniques”. The pieces I’ve listened to can be found in my listening log.

I chose pieces, which had melodies that would technically be able to carry themselves. For both I added a double stop for several notes, which made it easier to follow the melody.

For the first piece “Nur nicht aus Liebe weinen” (just don’t cry due to love), I wasn’t able to find the score nor a proper audio example of the original version, apart from a film-clip. I nonetheless managed to write the notes down.


The second piece “King of the Road” was easier to begin with, but I didn’t manage to involve as many different extended techniques.


Overall I really enjoyed working on this exercise. As a pianist I sometimes find it difficult to understand and see through the technical possibilities of other instruments. For this exercise I was fortunately to ask a friend for some advice to which extend the mentioned extended techniques were possible.

3 Mackeben, T.; Beckmann, H.F. (1939). Nur nicht aus Liebe weinen. First publication in the film “Es war eine rauschende Ballnacht”.

4 Miller, R. (1965). King of the Road. Nashville: Columbia Recording Studios.

Project 1.3.: Leading Voices, Spacing Chords

Exercise 4: Listening to the Harmonic Series

For this exercise, I was asked to hear overtones of the low C. I’ve learned the theory of overtones before but never took any time to properly listen to them. Starting this exercise I was slightly concerned about not being able to hear even the first overtone. Always taking an increasing fracture of the tone before (half, third, fourth….) I tried to slowly work my up to the f- sharp.

It took me some time to even know what to look out for at the beginning of this exercise. I had to play the first overtone (the octave) several times to recognize it within the lower C. Using this scheme I slowly worked my way up to the f – sharp but it took me quite a long time to actually hear it. Overall this was a very interesting and informative exercise for me, which I’ll also try to practice with other notes in future.

Exercise 5: Chords and the Harmonic Series

For this next exercise I had to try different spacings on chords, including the spacing of the approximate harmonic series. I tried different spacings just focussing on the C – major chord (C – E – G) as well as the C7 (C – E – G – Bb). Seeing that there is a huge amount of opportunities I only tried the following:

Starting with the chord in root position, I noticed, that, in comparison to the wider spacings, it seemed really cramped, especially on the lower C. Therefore, the chords with the wider spacing sounded much brighter and clearer. The only chords, where I had the impression, that the individual notes can be heard clearly was the 4th and the 8th. Surprisingly, the chords with the third on top (E), seemed much brighter and cheerier than the other.

The fist dominant 7 chord in root position sounded very tight as well. For me, these chords were more effective when none of the notes created an interval of a third (In this example bar 14 and 16. Although, looking at the main “purpose” of the dominant 7 chord, leading it to another chord (In this case C7 – F), the “tighter” chords seem more effective.

Exercise 6: Arranging Chords

For this exercise I was asked to arrange 3 different chord sequences for a string quartet. Even though I tried to stick to the four given rules of voice leading:

  • Have the upper parts moving by step, or by small intervals, as much as possible (the bass
    may move by leap). Semitone movement works particularly well.
  • Resolve dissonances by step.
  • Move the top and bottom parts in contrary motion (though this won’t always be possible).
  • Try to fit the chord as closely as you can to the harmonic series.

After finishing each piece, I started changing a few things, trying to give the short sequence slightly more character.

For the first example I had to use the following chords:

Apart from the bass line, I tried to avoid big steps, which I changed in the second version below, to let a melody stick out slightly more.

For the second exercise, I had the following chords:

The last chord progression was the following:

This was the only exercise, where I didn’t use the root for the base line continuously. For bars 5 and 6 I used the thirds in the bass instead, creating a short semitone – movement. I tried to use a similar scheme for the second version below. For the first violin and the cello I used small steps, moving apart from one another.

Overall, I sometimes found it difficult to find a right starting point, especially for the “normal” exercises, where I had to completely stick to the rules. I normally started with the bass line, but it sometimes took a few attempts before I had all the other notes placed as required.

Project 1.4. Orchestrating with String Instruments

Research Point 1C: Structure and Orchestration

I was asked to listen to Pavane in F – sharp minor, op. 50 from Gabriel Fauré, make a diagram of how he used orchestration and compare it with the original piano composition. In the diagram below one can see the usage of the different instruments from the orchestral version.

The structure is in a simple A – B – A’ form, the B – part starts in bar 43 and ends in bar 69.The middle section is also the only part where the pizzicato arpeggios can’t always be heard. They only start again as an introduction into the third section.

The most consisting instruments are the viola and the cello playing pizzicato arpeggios. Overall one can notice, that the different groups (woodwinds, strings and voices) have often the same entries for their instruments. Furthermore, Fauré seemed to have worked in chunks where almost all instruments play together in comparison to other parts with only a few of them playing. The first example here would be bar 39, where all instruments/voices apart from the oboes are playing/singing. One can also notice that three similar “pillars” of instruments are used in the middle section. The entry of the last section in bar 69 includes a few more instruments then the first section, which makes the sound richer.

The following entry can also be found in my Listening Log:

Pavane in F- sharp minor, Op. 50

  • Composer; Gabriel Fauré
  • Year of composition: 1887
  • Instruments: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 English horn, strings, choir SATB
  • Performed by: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, P. Barton, Piano
  • Listened to: 13.012.2020

The piece starts with pizzicato arpeggios played by the strings. The melody provides a calm, distinctive theme, which is presented in several versions. The overall character is really calm and relaxing. Even though it is kept rather quiet, a long crescendo carries itself over the whole piece. So far I have personally only heard versions without the choir, which sometimes adds a welcoming, slightly contrasting, harsh character to the piece. There are some parts from the choir, which also emphasize the emotional mood. Overall I really enjoyed listening to this piece.

Being a pianist myself, I enjoyed the piano just as much as the orchestral version. Having the sound of just one instrument in comparison to a whole orchestra may not seem as colourful at first. The orchestrated version was able to create textural differences with different instrument groups playing together. One important feature which makes it really stand out against the piano version was the choir adding a whole new layer to the piece. Nonetheless, I had the feeling that the pianist managed to capture the exact same impression as the orchestrated version provided.

Exercise 7: Completing String Arrangements

For this exercise I was asked to arrange piano extracts for different sized string ensembles. So far, this was one of the most challenging exercises for me. The three piece I enjoyed most working on was “From the Diary of a fly”. Overall, I sometimes found it difficult to find the right amount of voices to use for one voice. Especially for the parts, were I had only one or two voices playing at the same time.