Pond

by 

Abbie Conant and William Osborne

 

Table of Contents

1. General Description

2. The Video (June 3, 2016)

3. PDF Score

4. Audio Files from earlier recordings

5. Commentary on the Compositional Technique of the Work

 

 

1. General Description

 

For solo trombone. (5 minutes)  Premiere: New York - Manhattan School of Music, 1977

 

“Pond” for solo trombone. We composed this piece in 1976, and now, 40 years later, we have produced a video of it in our Taos studio. At the time of its creation, we were studying Zen Buddhism, and were especially involved with the Zen shakuhachi master Goro Yamaguchi’s 1969 recording entitled “A Bell Ringing In the Empty Sky.” 

To create sounds similar to the shakuhachi, we removed the trombone's F-valve tuning slide so that when the F trigger is pushed, a soft, muted sound goes out the back of the instrument. We also focused on a meditative use of the breath as used by Zen monks when playing the shakuhachi. Our ultimate goal was to create a tone painting of a forest pond we saw and loved at Yale’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. We even used multi-phonics to create allusions to the beautiful sounds of bull frogs.

To create the work, we used a system William had formulated to reduce the structures of Beethoven piano sonatas to quasi-algebraic formulas. (See an example in the comments section below.) We took his equations for Beethoven’s Opus 14, No. 1 and filled them with figures emulating the melodies, phrasing, and ornamentation of shakuachi music to portray the Norfolk pond. The result is what you see in the video.

 

2. The Video

 

  

 

3. PDF Score

 

To download the score click here.  

(The score and performance rights are free.  We'd love to hear from you if you perform the work.)

 

 

4. Audio Files

 

To stream an mp3 file of a studio recording made in 2009 click here.

To stream an mp3 file of a live recording made in 1983 click here.

 

To download the studio recording click here.  (MP3, 8 MB) 

To download the live recording click here.  (MP3, 8 MB)

 

 

5. Commentary on the Compositional Technique of the Work

 

In this section we provide an analysis of our work for solo trombone entitled "Pond" which includes a description of our working methods when we created it.  "Pond" uses material inspired by Japanese shakuhachi music cast in a sonata allegro form related to Beethoven's Piano Sonata Number 9 (Opus 14 Number 1.)  Our inspiration for the shakuhachi music was taken from a recording of "A Bell Ringing In An Empty Sky" made by Goro Yamaguchi in 1969.

 

Analysis.  We began creating a series of formulas that symbolized the structure of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 9, and then placed materials related to shakuhachi music into those formulas.  In the series of excerpts below, we show the principle motives of the piano sonata's exposition, and the corresponding material from "Pond."  At the bottom of this webpage we then include  the formulas that define the A section of the piano sonata and explain how the formulas are read.

 

The scores.  It is advisable to also look at the full scores of each work.  The excerpts below from the piano sonata are taken from the Heinrich Schenker edition which can be download for free here.   And you can also quickly obtain a free, full PDF score of "Pond" by simply sending us an email.  (Don't be shy, we're happy to send it to you.)

 

Recordings.  A recording of Beethoven's Opus 14 Number 1 can be found here.  A recording of "Pond" by Abbie Conant is here.  An MP3 recording of "A Bell Ringing In An Empty Sky" can be purchased here.  It is offered by Nonesuch for eight dollars.  (You can also listen to a 30 second excerpt on that site for free.)

 

 

The A Section's opening motive.

 

 

To begin, this is the A section of Beethoven's Op. 14, No. 1. (measures 0-4.)

 

                          First Part                                                   Second Part

 

We created a vaguely similar melodic contour form to create the opening motive of Pond, but we broke the four measures into two more distinctly antecedent and consequent phrases. (mea. 1-4)

 

                      First Part                                                   Second Part

 

 

 

Episodic Interlude after the statement of the A section

 

 

After opening with the main A section, Beethoven inserts two measures of episodic material.  

(measures 4-6)

 

 

Pond: We include a similar two measure episode, using the same pattern of a two beat figure sequenced 

four times. (mea. 5-6)

 

 

 

 

The Second motive of the A Section (antecedent phrase)

 

 

Beethoven introduces a second motive to the A Section.  (measure 6-7)

 

 

Pond:  We do the same with a two measure figure instead one, but there is a similar rhythmic feel and upward movement of the melody. (mea. 7-10)

 

 

 

 

Second motive of the A Section (consequent phrase)

 

 

Beethoven used this downward movement to concluded the second motive of the A section.  (mea. 8-11)

 

 

Pond:  In the same way, we used a very simple downward movement to bring our passage to repose, though our motive contains one measure instead of two.  (mea. 11-12)

 

 

 

 

A Section Varied and Repeated 

 

 

Beethoven then restates the opening motive of the A section in a varied form. (mea. 12-15)

 

 

Pond: We also created a varied from of our opening A section motive.  Note the similar melodic contour.

(mea. 13-15)

 

 

 

 

A Section Varied Consequent phrase

 

 

Beethoven concludes the varied A section theme with this passage which is played twice. (mea. 16-19)

 

 

Pond: We employ a one measure figure which is also played twice -- the second time transposed.  Note

the similar rise and then fall of the melodic line. (mea. 16-17)

 

 

 

 

B section

 

 

Beethoven then states his first motive of the B section which has a scalar character. (mea. 21-25)

 

 

Pond:  The opening motive of our B section also focuses on a sort of scalar movement. (mea. 21-24)

 

 

 

 

Second motive of the B section

 

 

Beethoven later presents a second motive to the B section.  The motive is stated twice in the first two bars and is followed by two measures that end the phrase. (mea. 38-41)

 

Antecedent                                                             Consequent

 

Pond:  We also present a new motive played twice followed by two measures that conclude the phrase.  

Note how the rhythm of the motive is similar to Beethoven's.  (The passage is here repeated twice as in the Beethoven's full score.)  (mea. 38-43)

 

 

 

The Formulas.

 

William has used this method of composition for many works such as his "Thirty Memos for Piano", and the first movement of "Music for the End of Time."  (Both sites have recordings.)  "Pond" was written in 1976 and was the first time we used this method.  The first movement of "Music for the End of Time" mentioned above came much later and is a much more elaborate and detailed use of this method since William was much more practiced by that point.

 

He uses a symbol to label all of the motives in a sonata allegro form.  Since Arabic numbers, alphabetic letters, and Roman numerals are already used for certain kinds of musical analysis, he uses astrological symbols to label the motives.  The symbols below were used for the above piano sonata by Beethoven: 

 

    

 

With these symbols, he then creates formulas that provide an overview of the work's structure, including its harmonic changes, octave transpositions, variations, etc.  Here are the meanings of the additional symbols" used in the formulas below:

 

+  Roman numerals indicate harmonic progressions.  

+  The lower case "oct" indicates octave transpositions.  The Arabic numbers indicate the number of octaves and the up or down arrows the direction of the shift.  (A zero indicates the original octave.)

+  The lower case "var" indicates a variation of a motive.

+  The arrow pointing right means a movement to a new key area.

 

Here are the formulas used to define the A section of the above piano sonata, though a full sonata usually takes about 15 lines:

 

   

 

Translated into everyday language, the first line means that the opening motive of the A section (the circle with a cross in it) is repeated four times through a harmonic progression of I, IV, V, and I.  It is then followed by the first episodic material (the crossed h-like symbol) stated in its original octave and then repeated three more times, each time an octave lower.

 

The second line means that the antecedent phrase of the second theme of the A section (the crescent moon symbol) is stated once and then repeated an octave higher.  This is followed by the consequent phrase (the H-like symbol)  which is stated and then repeated an octave lower.

 

The third line means the opening A theme (the circle with a cross) is varied and then repeated as it moves to the secondary dominate.  It is then followed by the A section's concluding cadence (the MR-like symbol.)

 

As you can see, the formulas are much more concise.  To create a work, William (or Abbie and William sometimes together for trombone works,) create motives and put them into these formulas.  The process is loose and the motives can sometimes be quite different from the models.  Sometimes a work remains fairly close to the formulas, but sometimes the entire structure will take off in its own direction and no longer follow the formulas at all.

 

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